What Causes Brain Freeze?

4:39 PM, May 3, 2013   |    comments
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Winston-Salem, NC -- So here's something we can all relate to: brain freeze.  You know, the pain you feel when you drink a slushy or eat ice cream too fast. Dr. Dwayne Godwin with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center explains what causes brain freeze.  

Dr. Godwin said a cold beverage comes over the top of the tongue and hit this part of the mouth called the soft palette, which is very close to the internal carotid artery, which runs right along the back of your throat. The internal carotid feeds the anterior cerebral artery. The anterior cerebral artery passes through an area called the meninges. Dr. Godwin said, "Its really this area called the meninges, and the stretching that occurs on dilation of the blood vessels [in the anterior cerebral artery]  in response to this change in temperature that causes the pain that we associate with the brain freeze."

Godwin said for the most part, brain freeze is benign, and is not something doctors worry about.

So how do we stop brain freeze? Dr. Godwin said the easiest way to stop a brain freeze is to jam your tongue against the base of the soft palette. That's because your tongue has a lot of warm blood in it, it will actually undo what you've done by drinking the beverage too fast or eating the ice cream cone too fast. He also said drinking a warm drink will help too.

It turns out brain freeze is actually important to science! Dr. Godwin said, "The great thing about a brain freeze is that it allows us to understand other more severe types of headaches in a way that we would not be able to do in the lab. I can't give you a migraine in the lab, at least very easily, but what i can do is give you a straw and a cold drink and ask you to drink it and I can do that many, many times, and for scientists, thats a wonderful thing to be able to do because we can understand the basic mechanisms that generate a headache [...] and find out a lot more about other more severe forms of headache like migraines or cluster headaches."

WFMY News 2

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