What is an ice pick headache?

An ice pick headache triggers intense and stab-like pain in the temporal, parietal and orbital region of the head. An episode occurs abruptly and can be very painful which only lasts for a few seconds. This type of headache is considered uncommon than the other types.

The pain can be felt as a single stabbing sensation at a single spot or at several sites. It can occur without warning and usually severe and intense but eventually subside in just a few seconds. In most cases, the headache occurs in sporadic clusters. There are days, weeks, months or even years between the episodes.

What are the causes?

The precise cause of an ice pick headache is still unknown. Nevertheless, there are some predisposing factors such as those who suffer from migraines and cluster headaches are likely to experience this type at some point in life.

What is an ice pick headache?

Abrupt, intense pain that is stabbing in nature and lasts for only a few seconds.

What are the characteristics of an ice pick headache?

  • Abrupt, intense pain that is stabbing in nature and lasts for only a few seconds
  • Piercing sensation that strikingly resembles an ice pick
  • Pain can manifest on a single spot or several sites on the head
  • Can awaken an individual from sleep

In most cases, there are no other accompanying symptoms present.


The treatment for an ice pick headache is not usually needed since it settles in just seconds even before a pain medication can be used. Nevertheless, if the headache occurs throughout the day or frequently, some medications can be taken as treatment or as a preventive measure. The following can be used as part of treatment:

  • NSAIDs such as indomethacin is widely used for this type of headache. Remember though that it should be used carefully due to its side effects.
  • Since it is common among those with migraines, medications for migraines can be used.
  • Lower down the level of stress with the help of relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and meditation.
  • A healthy diet with regular exercises
  • Other medications such as anti-epileptics and antidepressants can be used. Aside from alleviating the pain, they also allow the individual to sleep.
  • Keep a record of the headaches to determine when and how they occur. The information noted can be used to determine the ideal treatment.

Always bear in mind that an ice pick headache does not usually indicate a serious issue but it is best to consult a doctor if they manifest frequently.



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