Cold headache: what is frozen brain syndrome

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Have you ever eat ice cream and have a sudden migraine attack? It’s called frozen brain syndrome and, despite its sci-fi hibernation name, it is not a serious pathology: “In medical jargon we speak of sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, a complicated expression that the English have simplified into brain freeze: affects 31 percent of the general population, about one in three people, and it is more frequent in those who usually suffer from migraineswhere the percentage is close to 90 percent », explains the doctor Lucia Borsotti, neurologist of the CeMeDi of Turin. “Besides, it is quite common in children because of its mechanism that involves the nerve fibers, still little “trained” at an early age ».

What is Frozen Brain Syndrome

Located behind the palate, between the nose and sinuses, the sphenopalatine ganglion is a bulky collection of nerves that can sometimes respond in an exaggerated way to a cold stimulus. “The problem arises above all when the stimulus is ingested, as in the case of an ice cream, but it can arise even if it is inhaled, for example if we” breathe “abnormal cold air, such as that of a cold room”, explains Dr. Borsotti . “At that point nociceptors are stimulated, that is pain receptors, which transmit their” message “to the sphenopalatine ganglion: the latter is activated and involves three nerves, the trigeminalthe vagus and the glossopharyngeal, which transport the sensation to the brain, triggering a very rapid and very intense pain ».

There is also another theory, related to the sensitization of the arteries. When faced with an insult, such as a cold stimulus, the anterior cerebral artery plays defense: first it dilates to bring heat thanks to an increased blood supply to the brain (vasodilation) and then it shrinks again (vasoconstriction), creating pain.

What are the symptoms

The hallmark of frozen brain syndrome is a stabbing pain, located in the middle of the forehead and temples, which lasts from thirty seconds to a minute, and then spontaneously regresses. “It feels like an intense stab, but there is no dangerthere is no risk that it may degenerate, nor are there any related symptoms, such as nausea, hypertensive peaks, fainting or vision problems “, reassures Dr. Borsotti.

“Obviously, this is a very different problem than cluster headache: here too the pain resembles a hot stab, but the characteristics are completely different and the duration can last from fifteen minutes to two hours. Furthermore, in order to speak of frozen brain syndrome, it is essential that the patient has just been exposed to a cold stimulus. If not, we need to evaluate other ailments ».

How the disturbance is avoided

As it is not a disease, sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia does not require medical treatment. «To avoid it, you just need to have some precautions: the main one is that of swallow slowly very cold foods, slowly accustoming the upper part of the mouth to the lowest temperature, but there are scientific studies that have highlighted the usefulness of bringing the tongue to the palate, pressing hard, to make the disorder regress “, suggests the expert. “Having some precautions is especially useful in chronic migraine sufferers, because some research indicates that the cold stimulus underlying the brain freeze can trigger an attack.”

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