Man develops 'thunderclap headaches' after eating one of the world's hottest chili peppers

A 34-year-old man who ate a Carolina Reaper, one of the world's hottest chili peppers, during an eating competition developed dry heaves, severe neck pain and a "thunderclap headaches." The symptoms went on for days, according to a new report in BMJ Case Studies.

The 'Carolina Reaper' sent a 34-year-old to the emergency room after a red hot chili pepper-eating contest

The Carolina Reaper, the world's hottest chili pepper. (Shutterstock)

A 34-year old man got more than he bargained for by taking part in a hot chili pepper eating contest.

He ended up in a New York state hospital with "excruciatingly painful episodic headaches" after eating a "Carolina Reaper," according to a new study in the journal BMJ Case Reports.

For the uninitiated, the red-coloured, gnarly shaped plant is believed to be the world's hottest chili pepper.

The symptoms started immediately after the unidentified patient ate the pepper in 2016. First came the dry heaves and neck pain. Over the next several days, he experienced intense headaches.

The Carolina Reaper, the world's hottest chili pepper. (Shutterstock)

"He thought it would go away, but it did not," said Dr. Kulothungan Gunasekaran, one of report's authors. "It progressed all over the head. It was so severe, it made him come to the ER."

After ruling out various neurological conditions, a CT scan showed that several arteries in the patient's brain had constricted.

Doctors diagnosed him with reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome — RCVS for short.

RCVS is characterized by the temporary narrowing of arteries that often comes with "thunderclap" headaches. Such headaches reach their peak within one minute, disappear just as quickly and are often accompanied by nausea or vomiting.

"Most people would explain this as the worst headache they've had in their life," he said. "He (the patient) will remember this for his life."

Doctors say RCVS can occur as a reaction to prescription drugs, or after taking illegal drugs. The authors report that this is the first case associated with eating a chili pepper.

The man's symptoms improved within days. A CT scan taken several weeks later showed his affected arteries were back to normal.

"You know, I'm from India," said Gunasekaran, who now practices in Detroit. "I eat hot, but I never go beyond jalapeno. That would be my spice level."

The hospital isn't identifying the man because of patient confidentiality.


Kas Roussy

Senior Reporter

Kas Roussy is a senior reporter with the Health unit at CBC News. In her more than 30 years with CBC, Kas’s reporting has taken her around the globe to cover news in countries including Pakistan and Afghanistan, Chile, Haiti and China, where she was the bureau producer.