Thunderclap headaches live up to their name, grabbing your attention like a clap of thunder. The pain of these sudden, severe headaches peaks within 60 seconds and can start fading after an hour. Some of these headaches, however, can last for more than a week.
Thunderclap headaches are uncommon, but they can be a warning sign of potentially life-threatening conditions — usually having to do with bleeding in and around the brain. That's why it's so important to seek emergency medical attention if you experience a thunderclap headache.
Thunderclap headaches are dramatic. Symptoms include pain that:
When to see a doctor
Some thunderclap headaches appear as a result of:
In other cases, potentially life-threatening conditions may be responsible, including:
Preparing for your appointment
Thunderclap headaches are often first diagnosed by an emergency room physician. However, in some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred immediately to a doctor who specializes in the brain and nervous system (neurologist).
If you have time before your appointment, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and to know what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time with your doctor. For thunderclap headaches, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask questions that occur to you.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
The following tests are commonly used to determine if any underlying condition is causing thunderclap headaches.
Magnetic resonance angiography
Treatments and drugs
There's no single treatment for thunderclap headaches because so many potential causes exist. Treatment is aimed at the underlying cause of the headaches — if one is found.
Coping and support
You may find it useful to talk to other people who experience painful headaches. Try finding a support group in your area to learn how other people cope with their headache pain and discomfort.
Last Updated: 2012-02-08
© 1998-2014 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. A single copy of these materials may be reprinted for noncommercial personal use only. "Mayo," "Mayo Clinic," "MayoClinic.com," "Mayo Clinic Health Information," "Reliable information for a healthier life" and the triple-shield Mayo logo are trademarks of Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
Terms and conditions of use