23 April 2012

Ice-cream headaches a clue to migraines

That "brain freeze" headache you experience when eating ice-cream or other cold foods may be caused by a sudden change in brain blood flow, researchers report.


That "brain freeze" headache you experience when eating ice-cream or other cold foods may be caused by a sudden change in brain blood flow, researchers report.

What's more, the new research might point to targets to treat other, more troubling forms of headache such as migraine, the US team said.

How the study was done

In the study, the scientists monitored brain blood flow in 13 healthy adults as they sipped ice water through a straw pressed against the upper palate so as to trigger "brain freeze".

The results suggest that these transient headaches are triggered by a sudden increase in blood flow in the brain's anterior cerebral artery. Brain freeze disappears again when this artery constricts, the study found.

The findings may help lead to new treatments for other types of headaches, the researchers said. Experimental Biology brings together researchers from six scientific societies.

The rapid dilation and then quick constriction of the anterior cerebral artery may be a type of self-defence for the brain, explained study leader Jorge Serrador of Harvard Medical School and the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center of the Veterans Affairs New Jersey Health Care System.

What happens during brain freeze

"The brain is one of the relatively important organs in the body, and it needs to be working all the time. It's fairly sensitive to temperature, so vasodilation [expansion of blood vessels] might be moving warm blood inside tissue to make sure the brain stays warm," Serrador noted in an American Physiological Society news release.

He explained that the skull is a closed structure and the sudden rush of blood could therefore boost pressure and cause pain. The subsequent constriction of the artery may also be a way to reduce pressure in the brain before it reaches dangerous levels.

Brain blood flow changes similar to those seen in brain freeze could be associated with migraines and other types of headaches, Serrador said. If further research confirms that this is the case, then finding ways to control brain blood flow could offer new treatments for headaches, he said.

Data and conclusions presented at scientific meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Read more:
Is it a migraine?

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about headaches.

(Copyright © 2012 HealthDay. All rights reserved.)


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

Headache expert

Dr Elliot Shevel is a South African migraine surgery pioneer and the founder and medical director of The Headache Clinic in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, South Africa. The Headache Clinic is a multidisciplinary practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Primary Headaches and Migraines. Dr Shevel is also the main author of all scientific publications generated by his team. He recently won a high level science debate in which he was able to prove that the current migraine diagnosis and classification is not based on data. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon. Follow the Headache Clinic on Twitter@HeadacheClinic.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules