A contestant who gobbled the world’s hottest pepper at an upstate New York chili-eating contest landed in an emergency room with a “thunderclap headache” — the first reported hospitalization for that excruciating condition.
The unidentified 34-year-old knew something was amiss after eating the Carolina Reaper and developing dry heaves, according to a report in the British Medical Journal.
He ended up at a Cooperstown hospital, where doctors did not detect any neurological deficits such as slurred speech, muscle weakness or vision loss that would have indicated a stroke, according to CNN.
CT imaging also ruled out a blood clot or bleeding in one of the large vessels carrying blood to the brain – but a CT angiogram revealed a substantial narrowing of the left internal carotid artery and four other blood vessels supplying the brain.
“You could see the beaded appearance [of the arteries], and the yellow arrows point to the narrowing of the blood vessels,” said Dr. Kulothungan Gunasekaran of the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, one of the doctors who treated the man.
Gunasekaran and Dr. Gregory Cummings, a neurologist, eventually diagnosed the man with the thunderclap, which doctors call reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome – caused by a narrowing of blood vessels in the brain. The condition is considered a medical emergency because it could signal bleeding on the brain, a blood clot or other life-threatening conditions. It may sometimes lead to a stroke.
Five weeks later, his arteries were back to normal.
“People should be cautious about the effects of hot peppers,” Gunasekaran said. “If they do develop these symptoms, they should seek medical attention.”
Capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers, can trigger the frightening condition.
There have been two reported cases of heart attacks apparently due to capsaicin — one in a patient taking cayenne pepper capsules to lose weight and another using a capsaicin patch to treat pain, Gunasekaran said.
The Carolina Reaper –which was bred in 2013 by Ed Currie of the Puckerbutt Pepper Co. — measures about 1.5 million on the Scoville Heat Scale, according to the company’s website.
That is more 400 times spicier than jalapeño peppers, which average 3,500 to 8,000 on the Scoville scale, according to a 2013 study.
Greg Foster of Irvine, Calif., holds the Guinness World Record for consuming the Carolina Reaper. He ate a fiery 120 grams of the pepper in 60 seconds at the Arizona Hot Sauce Expo in November 2016.