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World’s hottest pepper leads to ‘thunderclap’ headache

It’s a no-brainer that eating a Carolina Reaper, a chili pepper bred to be the hottest on earth, will come with consequences.

But for the first time, consuming these peppers have been linked to reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome, or RCVS, a temporary artery narrowing in the brain often accompanied by agonizing thunderclap headaches, according to journal BMJ Case Reports. Such headaches are typically brief but agonizing.

An unnamed man had to seek emergency care after participating in a hot chili pepper-eating contest left him with a storm of “thunderclap” headaches for days.

DEC. 12 2013 PHOTO

Carolina Reaper peppers are too darn hot for their own good, one food contestant learned.

(Jeffrey Collins/AP)

The pain was excruciating enough to warrant tests for neurological conditions, which came back negative. But a CT scan showed that several brain arteries had constricted.

Doctors concluded that the patient had thunderclap headaches from RCVS, which has previously been associated with prescription and illegal drugs. And, now, Carolina Reapers.

This is your brain on Carolina Reapers, but the case study patient

This is your brain on Carolina Reapers, but the case study patient’s headaches eventually went away.


Previously eating cayenne pepper has been linked to sudden constriction of the coronary artery.

“Given the development of symptoms immediately after exposure to a known vasoactive substance, it is plausible that our patient had RCVS secondary to the Carolina Reaper,” write the authors.

The man’s symptoms cleared up by themselves. And a CT scan 5 weeks later showed that his affected arteries had returned to their normal width.

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