Posted in chronic pain, migraines

What are ‘Thunderclap’ Headaches

Picture this….You’re relaxing in your favorite chair, or out with friends for coffee or perhaps enjoying a delightful soothing bath, when unexpectedly, BAM!!, you’re struck with this horrendous pain in your head; the worst headache pain you’ve ever felt.  It’s different from a migraine, and termed a “THUNDERCLAP” headache.

During the warmer weather, two years ago, for a couple of hellish months, I’d been lucky to dodge migraines for a few days here and there.  But, no time for celebration, as I was suddenly contending with these sudden ‘BAM!’ headaches as well.  The pain was directed in the middle of my forehead, top of my head and covering my entire face, not a typical migraine for me, which are bilateral.

For two weeks straight I’d experienced six of those headaches but one just before a weekend was by far the most severe, finding myself at emergency (I avoid the ER as much as possible with the rolled eyes when you arrive with a ‘headache’, noise, lights, long waits and I’m usually forgotten about with a low priority status).

The ER doc wasn’t very obliging and didn’t appear to be alarmed by my symptoms as I blurted out that this was the worst of any headache that I’ve had in the past two weeks (I googled beforehand if this type of headache had an actual name or category).

I asked him if these were ‘Thunderclap Headaches’, he was skeptical, yet returned later, agreeing that it falls under the symptoms of “Thunderclap”, thus ordering a CT scan which turned up with no abnormalities.  He arranged for an MRI which was done the following YEAR (my city is seriously backed-up), and the results showed no abnormalities also

The ER doctor was useless with his only ‘lightbulb’ remedy, “take Tylenol and call your neurologist”.  Thanks, Doc for that helpful advice!

I saw my neuro, he gave me a jargon description of these headaches, but the positive is that I’ve only had a few over the past two years.  

Written and copyrighted by Deb McCarthy/2017

Other info: Severe Headache Expert

Originally posting on my blog “Living in Stigma


Writer, poet, blogger, advocate of mental illness stigma

17 thoughts on “What are ‘Thunderclap’ Headaches

  1. Thank so much for following my blog! How did you know that I suffered from horrible sometimes two-sided migraines for many years? I did start using Imitrex and it was a miracle, but retiring and getting my BP under control dd the trick. Haven’t had more than two migraines in the last five years – sometimes I get the visual aura but that’s all. Stop by and visit me any time!


    1. I go into ‘reader-search’ because I want to connect with people who struggle with the same health related issues as I do. I found one of your posts, peeked at your blog and wanted to follow you. When I began my first blog ‘Living in Stigma’
      in 2007 we didn’t have the luxury of a ‘reader’ or ‘reblogging’ and pretty much depended on google or people finding us within our interest area. My blog centered on mental illness stigma, which I thought was never going to be read or be interested in my woes, however, it took off like a storm! Hooray for your migraines! I’ve not had much luck. My neurologist is pushing for Botox injections, and that isn’t the route I want to go. Thanks for commenting. Big hugs, Deb


      1. I’ve heard that Botox works nicely – not sure for how long! mitrex was such a huge treatment for me. Got me through my last years at work ( had an ogre of a chairman who blew my BP into outer space). Spent a year after retiring without coffee or any caffeine and got a BP drug that works well, so am now living a relatively normal life and drinking coffee again!


      2. Imitrex worked well for me also, however, I had to take it in nasal form and the taste of the med at the back of my throat was unbearable. I take Relpax now, and thank goodness I have a drug plan or else it would be impossible for me to stay on them ($16.00 CAD per tab). My drug plan only allows 12 per month, and I have approx. 26 days of migraines. Go figure.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hospitals are the last place you want to go with that kind of symptoms. I worry about the lack of insight of a medical system when no one (important enough) has ever thought about dark rooms, quiet rooms or anything that helps to relieve rather than esacerbate suffering for their waiting patients. Best wishes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally agree. The ER was packed full and the doc was about as interested in my woes as watching paint dry. Maybe they’re puzzled too, don’t want to research, and think ordering an x-ray is the easiest way out. Thanks for the follow. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I used to get ‘cluster’ headaches. Somehow, for no apparent reason, they stopped somewhere in my mid-forties. Even the term, Thunderclap, sounds horrid. I’m sure they’re worse than what I was experiencing. The cluster headaches were due to my brain trying to heal itself from a stroke I had several years before they started. My guess is my brain gave up trying to heal because I’m still disabled.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I believe it’s a question to doctors who are puzzled as to why headaches or migraines begin, end, continue etc. in life. Most have possibly never had a migraine in their life, and must question the horrific pain that is felt. All they can respond to is: “It’s incurable”, and hands you a script! Sorry to hear you are struggling, it’s a crappy life. Hugs, Deb

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s a great image to describe the pain of severe headaches. I often use the example of an eagle’s talons wrapped around my skull.
    Thanks for following my blog, which is much appreciated.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’d never heard of Thunderclap headaches. This is terrific information for me! I have migraines which are occasionally really awful (light & sound sensitivity and vomiting) but my husband has it far worse. He gets Cluster headaches and, because of your post, I believe he’s had Thunderclap headaches. I’m definitely going to have him read this post! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting. The thing I don’t understand is, these headaches soon lessened for me. I searched medical sites but couldn’t find if they eventually do lessen or become worse? Cluster headaches are extremely painful, I empathize with your hubby. All the best to you. Hugs, Deb 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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