Obscure Medical Terms: How Well Do You 'Speak Medicine'?

Albert B. Lowenfels, MD


November 09, 2018

Brain Freeze

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"Sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia" is the complicated medical term for what most of us call an "ice cream headache" or "brain freeze." These more easily understandable terms describe what happens when a low-temperature food, such as ice cream, makes contact with the hard palate, causing a transient but painful headache. The exact cause is unknown, but may be related to sudden constriction and then dilatation of blood vessels involving the roof of the mouth, sending painful impulses along the trigeminal nerve.

An ice cream headache generally lasts less than 5 minutes, and the simplest self-treatment is to place the warm tongue against the roof of the mouth. In one study, ice cream headaches occurred in about two thirds of 10- to 14-year-old students, and were more common than in adults.[1]

What about prevention of ice cream headaches? The intuitive prevention measure is to eat ice cream slowly, which is less likely than rapid consumption to produce an ice cream headache.[2]


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