We’ve all experienced it: you take a bite of an ice-cream or a slurp of an ice-cold drink, and suddenly there it is – that excruciating pain that hits you in the soft palette, spreading up through your ears and head with such force that the only thing you can do is grit your teeth and hold your face until it clears.
The pain of “brain-freeze”, as it is commonly referred to, is a phenomenon that is as yet unexplained.
However, it is known to occur more commonly in migraine sufferers, suggesting a shared link between the two types of headache. Is brain-freeze and migraine related?
One possible link is the involvement that changes in local blood flow associated with certain types of headaches.
In a study that used induced brain-freeze as a method of studying the mechanisms of other types of headaches, dilation (relaxation) of an artery in the brain was found to be associated with onset of the pain, while constriction of the same artery was seen to occur as the pain subsided.
It is thought that this change in blood flow within the brain may be a regulatory response to the change in temperature within the mouth, diverting blood to the brain in order to keep it warm.
But the sudden surge of blood into the closed space within the skull causes pain until the blood flow returns to normal..
While there are no revelations here in terms of avoiding brain-freeze (apart from avoiding ice-cold food and drinks!), the research may unlock new treatments to block sudden changes in blood flow that could be causing certain types of migraine and other headaches.
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