m.cnn.com – (CNN)What happened to a contestant in a hot-pepper-eating contest may give spicy food aficionados one more reason to “fear the reaper,” according to a recent case report.
The 34-year-old man, who was not identified, experienced a series of intense headaches and dry heaving after eating a Carolina Reaper, reportedly the hottest pepper in the world, during the contest in New York.
The man developed excruciating pain in his head and neck, prompting him to go to an emergency room, according to an article published Monday in the journal BMJ Case Reports. “The patient ate the pepper and immediately starting having a severe headache that started in the back of the head and spread all over within two seconds,” said Dr. Kulothungan Gunasekaran, an internal medicine physician at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and a lead author of the report, who was not involved in the patient’s care.
“Because he could not tolerate the headache, they sent him to the ER,” he added.
When the patient arrived at the hospital, physicians were not positive what had caused his symptoms. The man did not have any neurological deficits such as slurred speech, muscle weakness or vision loss that would have indicated a stroke. CT imaging also ruled out a blood clot or bleeding in one of the large blood vessels supplying the brain.
But a CT angiogram of the brain’s blood vessels did reveal something unusual: a substantial narrowing of the left internal carotid artery and four other blood vessels supplying the brain.
“Then CT angiography was done, which showed narrowing of the blood vessels in the brain,” Gunasekaran said. “You could see the beaded appearance [of the arteries], and the yellow arrows point to the narrowing of the blood vessels.”
Gunasekaran and Dr. Gregory Cummings, the neurologist on the case, eventually diagnosed the man with reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome, or RCVS, probably caused by the hot peppers.
RCVS is typically characterized by an intense “thunderclap” headache due to constriction of blood vessels in the brain and usually resolves within a few days or weeks, according to Dr. Anne Ducros, professor of neurology and head of the migraine and headache unit at the University of Montpellier, who was not involved in the report.
It is normally associated with certain medications, such as ergotamine or triptans, and illicit drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines — not peppers. Severe cases can even be life-threatening, according to Ducros.
“A proportion of patients will have a severe form with strokes, and they can get either an intracranial hemorrhage of an ischemic stroke,” Ducros said. “But the mortality is low, around 2% … and most patients who die from RCVS are young women and often in the postpartum state.
“But most of them will do well with only recurrent headaches, and then they have a total recovery,” she added.
Hot peppers have a high concentration of capsaicin, a chemical responsible for the spiciness of certain foods. The substance is known to cause constriction of blood vessels in some parts of the body and is even used at low concentrations in some topical medications.
An unnamed ghost pepper hit a Carolina gentleman with a super move. I think he hit down, half circle forward, square, circle. He definitely wouldn’t have survived that Hellfire Challenge 😂. If something spicy ever sends me to the ER y’all can revoke my JG card.