There may be new hope on the horizon for migraine sufferers. A recent study into the cause of ‘brain freeze’ has revealed a basic defense mechanism in the head designed to protect the brain from a sudden decrease in temperature. Scientists involved with the study hope it is the missing link between unpredictable migraines and a cure.
(Photo via Michal Marcol)
A test group of 13 people were observed in a laboratory. Diagnostic imaging was used to monitor brain function as each individual sipped ice water through a straw. The participants were instructed to direct the flow of the cold water over the roof of their mouth until a ‘brain freeze’ or ‘ice cream headache’ occurred. Onset was always quick and painful, dissipating after a few moments.
For years, no one really knew the cause of this particular, universal type of head pain. It was widely speculated to be soft palate pain rather than actual head pain, but the study has disproven the soft palate theory.
Brain imaging clearly showed a change in the anterior cerebral artery, a blood vessel that runs directly behind the eyes in the middle of the brain. When the too-cold water entered the mouth, the vessel dilated, allowing warm blood to flow into the skull, preventing a drop in temperature that might damage the brain. This sudden increase of pressure from the influx of blood triggered the ‘brain freeze’. Because the artery was unable to shrink at as fast a rate as it swelled, the headache lingered for a few moments until the pressure normalized.
Essentially, the ‘ice cream headache’ is a survival mechanism.
Researcher Jorge Serrador, of Harvard Medical School, said in a statement reported by LiveScience, “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 might be moving warm blood inside tissue to make sure the brain stays warm.”
Why were scientists studying this phenomenon? Experts were hoping to find a way to treat migraines, a painful, debilitating type of head pain that affects millions of people. Migraines are too unpredictable to study in a lab setting, and inducing migraines with drugs does not provide an accurate test situation. ‘Brain freeze’ can be induced naturally, and is short-lived enough not to cause too much trauma to volunteers.
The overall hope is the new discovery of how blood vessels play a role in the onset of severe head pain will be a commonality between all forms of chronic headaches. If this is the case, the medical world will have a new avenue for which to combat migraines through the use of vasoconstriction and dilation drugs.
The views, opinions and information expressed in articles and blog posts published on imperfectparent.com and all subdomains are those of the authors alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of The Imperfect Parent or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of any entity of, or affiliated with, Imperfect Parent. The Imperfect Parent
is designed for entertainment
purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for medical, health,
legal, or financial advice from a professional.
of material from any of Imperfect Parent's pages without written
permission is strictly prohibited.