Hot peppers aren’t just a pain in the mouth — they may be a pain in the head, too. After eating the hottest known pepper in the world, a man suffered from splitting headaches that drove him to the hospital emergency room, and into case-study history.
His is the first known instance of reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome — a temporary narrowing of arteries in the brain — to be tied to eating a hot pepper, researchers report April 9 in British Medical Journal Case Reports. Such narrowed arteries can lead to severe pain called “thunderclap headaches” and are often associated with pregnancy complications or illicit drug use.
During a hot-pepper-eating contest, the man ate a chili dubbed the Carolina Reaper, named by Guinness World Records as the hottest pepper in the world. The Carolina Reaper is over 200 times as spicy as a jalapeño. About a minute later, he reported experiencing splitting headaches that came and went over two days before he sought treatment.
Initial tests failed to find anything out of the ordinary. But a CT scan of blood vessels in the man’s brain showed severely narrowed arteries. After treatment, including hydration and pain medication, the headaches stopped. When the researchers imaged his brain five weeks later, the arteries had returned to their normal size.