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What causes Ice-cream headaches?

nancy nlamb at ucla.edu
Tue Feb 20 23:54:07 EST 1996


Very interesting subject.
        If someone really wants to get to the root of this, they should ask
Niel Raskin, UCSF. He is the most well-known and widely referenced headache
specialist in clinical neurology. The most up-to-date reference I have says
the following:
         Ice cream headaches are believed to occur when cold comes into
contact with the roof of the mouth and the upper incisors, (as opposed to
esophagus). The pain is most often mid frontal, and less often temporal or
occipital. The pathogenesis is not completely understood, but reflex
vasoconstriction may be involved. Accompanying the pain is a decrease in
the skin temp of the forehead of 1 C.

Nancy
Clinical Neurology


>Jonathan is right, the phrenic does pass relatively close to the
>esophagus on it's way to the diaphragm.  But this doesn't explain to me
>how a chilled peripheral nerve will cause a pain sensation, similar to a
>headache, in the cns, especially in the occipial region.
>
>todd
>
>> >>It is not! the phrenic nerve (this is the nerve that goes to the diapharam)
>> >>unless you are getting hichoughs from eating icecream.  I always assumed it
>> >>was a vascular thing.....the cold in the esophagus cools blood in the
>>carotid
>> >>artery and then the coold somehow causes spasm in the arterys in the brain
>> >>leading to meningeal irritation.......sound good......this is of course
>> >>totally speculative.....
>> >>
>> >>
>> >>Anyone else have a thought???
>>
>>       Your reasoning is flawed.  I know the phrenic goes to the diaphragm
>> but that does not mean that it can't be the culprit whether it is actually
>> the phrenic nerve or not that is being chilled.  But one of the spinal
>> nerves passes close to the esophagus and I have heard that this is the
>> culprit.  By your reasoning, people who live in cold environs should be
>> experiencing massive headaches from their chilled blood, that we know is not
>> the case.  From my studies of arterial physiology, there is nothing to
>> suggest that cold would cause spasms, especially since I have heard of no
>> way for smooth muscle to respond to cold by spasms.  In addition, it has
>> been my observation that ice cream headaches effect the same area of the
>> brain everytime which is generally in the posterior lateral frontal cortex.
>> Thus implicating nerves in pain because arterial culprits could effect many
>> areas of the brain if the blood were cooling.
>>
>> Yours truly,
>> Jonathan Byrd
>> Dept. of Neuroscience
>> UofRocehster
>>
>>
>>





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