Thunderclap headaches live up to their name, grabbing your attention like a boom 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 for no obvious physical reason. 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 neurologist.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well-prepared for your appointment if you have time to prepare. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For thunderclap headaches, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
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 problem causing the headaches — if one is found.
No treatments exist if an underlying cause isn't 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: 2010-01-08
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