Last updated May 29, 2018 at 9:57 am
A chilli-eating competitor in the US developed “thunderclap headaches” after eating the world’s hottest chilli.
In unsurprising news out of the US, eating chillies straight is a bad idea.
One competitor in a chilli-eating competition got more than he bargained for when he was served up the hottest chilli in the world, the scorchingly hot Carolina Reaper.
The 34-year-old man ended up in a New York state hospital with excruciatingly painful headaches called “thunderclap headaches” after eating a single chilli.
Immediately after eating it he began dry heaving, but the worst was yet to come. He then developed severe neck pain and the crushing headaches so severe that he sought emergency care.
These types of headaches are unbearably painful. Although they only last for a few seconds at a time, they strike repeatedly, like waves of pain crashing down again and again. In this medical case, he reportedly experienced them for several days afterwards.
“They’re really intense, like the worst headache ever, and maximal severity right at the onset,” Professor Mark Parsons from the Royal Melbourne Hospital told the ABC.
“It can make you collapse or pass out with the intensity. It’s like being hit in the back of the head with a cricket bat.
“You’d usually need injectable painkillers at the hospital to relieve it. Your standard paracetamol or anti-inflammatory won’t help.”
Constricted arteries in the brain
With the thunderclap headaches usually being caused by brain injuries or bleeding on the brain, called subarachnoid haemorrhage, the man was tested for various neurological conditions, the results of which all came back negative.
But when he underwent a CT scan, doctors found that several arteries in his brain had constricted.
The diagnosis? Reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS).
RCVS is a temporary artery narrowing often accompanied by thunderclap headache. It doesn’t always have an obvious cause, but can occur as a reaction to certain prescription meds, or after taking illegal drugs.
However, this is the first case reported to be caused by eating chilli peppers.
As odd as it sounds, it’s not outside the realms of possibility. It’s been known that eating cayenne pepper can occasionally cause sudden constriction of the coronary artery and, in severe cases, heart attacks.
However, doctors have said that RCVS by itself shouldn’t be that painful, and have instead pointed the finger at neurotransmitters in the brain. In certain people, such as this person, dopamine flooding the brain could simultaneously trigger vasoconstriction and the pain pathways in the brain.
It’s unlikely that it’s a common occurrence – this is the first reported case of it being caused by chillies that have been eaten plenty of times before by people all over the world.
As for the man himself – the headaches cleared up by themselves, and a follow-up CT scan 5 weeks later showed no permanent damage and normal artery function.
What is the Carolina Reaper?
The Carolina Reaper was named by the Guinness Book of Records in 2013 as the world’s hottest chilli, taking over from the Bhut Jolokia, or Ghost Chilli.
It was originally bred in South Carolina by “Smokin” Ed Currie, as a cross between Bhut Jolokia and red Habanero. Tests by Winthrop University in South Carolina rated it at an average of 1.5 million SHU (Scoville Heat Units), with the hottest individual chilli rating 2.2 million SHU.
The humble jalapeno which you might have on tacos at home rates at its hottest 8000 SHU, making the Carolina Reaper at least 200 times (but generally around 600 times) hotter.
Currie has since bred a new chilli, dubbed Pepper X, which he claims to be over 3 million SHU. However, this is not yet confirmed officially as the hottest.
The case study was published in BMJ Case Reports.