CNN

‘Hottest pepper in the world’ puts man in hospital, suffers brain effects

Apr 10, 2018, 10:30 AM | Updated: Jun 7, 2022, 4:00 pm
...

(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.

2012 study documented a 25-year-old man who had a heart attack and coronary vasospasms after taking cayenne pepper pills — which also contain large amounts of capsaicin — for weight loss.

But this would be the first documented case of hot peppers causing vasoconstriction in the brain, according to the report.

“This is the first time that pepper has been related to RCVS,” Gunasekaran said. “Capsaicin, the key ingredient in the pepper, is a vasoactive substance, so it could potentially narrow the blood vessels to the most important organs like the heart and brain.”

The Carolina Reaper was bred in 2013 by Ed Currie of the Puckerbutt Pepper Company. The pepper measures roughly 1.5 million on the Scoville Heat Scale — a measurement of the pungency, or spiciness, of chili peppers — according to the company’s website.

That is over 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, California, holds the Guiness World Record for Carolina Reaper eating. He achieved this accomplishment by consuming 120 grams of the pepper in 60 seconds at the Arizona Hot Sauce Expo in November 2016.

According to Ducros, RCVS can also be triggered by extreme emotions or pain, which may have played a role in the case of the hot pepper contestant.

“You can also have RCVS after strong emotion, such as learning the death of a friend,” Ducros said. “The mechanism is that strong emotion can activate the sympathetic tone, and this leads to vasoconstriction.”

Sympathetic tone refers to the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which also results in the constriction of blood vessels.

“For example, in the case of ingestion of pepper, perhaps it is the intense pain triggered by the pepper which triggered the RCVS and not the pepper itself,” Ducros added.

Treatment for RCVS typically consists of removal of the offending substance and supportive care such as pain management, she said.

In this case, the patient’s symptoms improved, and he was released from the hospital after a few days.

“The patient was followed up after five weeks, and a repeat CT angiography showed resolution of the narrowing of the blood vessels,” Gunasekaran said. “Usually, RCVS resolves on its own after days to weeks.”

The authors of the report advise that RCVS should be considered for patients who experience intense headaches after eating hot peppers, cayenne pepper or any other substance containing high amounts of capsaicin.

“It’s important to think about RCVS if you get a very severe and instantaneous headache. It’s the main cause after a subarachnoid hemorrhage,” Ducros said. “But, unfortunately, this condition is still not widely known.”

(2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.)

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

CNN

Los Angeles police are asking for the public's assistance in identifying a suspect who is seen on s...
Natasha Chen and Aya Elamroussi, CNN

Police arrest suspect in an unprovoked assault of an Asian man in Los Angeles

Los Angeles police have arrested a suspect in the assault of an Asian man last week, in an attack caught on surveillance video, police said.
1 day ago
An image taken from a video posted by  Robert Nightingale, who was a passenger aboard the Amtrak tr...
Amy Simonson, Steve Almasy, David Williams and Pete Muntean, CNN

3 killed, at least 50 injured when Amtrak train derails in Missouri after hitting dump truck

Three people are dead and at least 50 injured after an Amtrak train derailed Monday in Missouri, authorities said Monday evening.
1 day ago
FILE: The Instagram app logo is displayed on an iPhone on Aug. 3, 2016, in London, England.  (Photo...
Rachel Metz, CNN Business

Instagram is testing AI that verifies your age with a selfie scan. It’s not perfect

Instagram is testing new ways to verify its youngest users' ages, including by using artificial intelligence that analyzes a photo and estimates how old the user is.
1 day ago
Azuradee France, mother of the child found in a freezer in the basement of her Detroit home. (Credi...
Benjamin Schiller and Artemis Moshtaghian, CNN

Michigan mother charged with killing toddler son whose body was in freezer

A mother in Detroit has been charged with murder after the body of her 3-year-old son was found in a freezer Friday.
1 day ago
NASA has carried out its first commercial spaceport launch outside the United States. (Equatorial L...
Kathleen Magramo, CNN

NASA launches first rocket from Australian space center

NASA has successfully launched a rocket from Australia's remote Northern Territory, making history as the agency's first commercial spaceport launch outside the United States.
1 day ago
(FILES) This file aerial shot taken on September 15, 2010 shows the disputed islands known as Senka...
Junko Ogura and Simone McCarthy, CNN

Japan says Chinese coast guard ships in longest violation of its territorial waters in a decade

Two Chinese coast guard ships navigated Japan's territorial waters near a chain of disputed islands for more than 64 hours this week
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

hand holding 3d rendering mobile connect with security camera for security solutions...
Les Olson

Wondering what security solutions are right for you? Find out more about how to protect your surroundings

Physical security helps everyone. Keep your employees, clients, and customers safe with security solutions that protect your workplace.
Many rattan pendant lights, hay hang from the ceiling.Traditional and simple lighting....
Lighting Design

The Best Ways to Style Rattan Pendant Lighting in Your Home

Rattan pendant lights create a rustic and breezy feel, and are an easy way to incorporate this hot trend into your home decor.
Earth day 2022...
1-800-GOT-JUNK?

How Are You Celebrating Earth Day 2022? | 4 Simple Ways to Celebrate Earth Day and Protect the Environment

Earth Day is a great time to reflect on how we can be more environmentally conscious. Here are some tips for celebrating Earth Day.
Get Money Online...

More Ways to Get Money Online Right Now in Your Spare Time

Here are 4 easy ways that you can get more money online if you have some free time and want to make a little extra on the side.
Lighting trends 2022...

Lighting Trends 2022 | 5 Beautiful Home Lighting Trends You Can Expect to See this Year and Beyond

This is where you can see the latest lighting trends for 2022 straight from the Lightovation Show at the Dallas World Trade Center.
What Can't You Throw Away in the Trash...

What Can’t You Throw Away in the Trash? | 5 Things You Shouldn’t Throw in to Your Trash Can

What can't you throw away in the trash? Believe it or not, there are actually many items that shouldn't be thrown straight into the trash.
‘Hottest pepper in the world’ puts man in hospital, suffers brain effects