Ice pick headache: causes, treatment and prevention

Young Woman with Eyeglasses Suffers Eye Fatigue
Medically reviewed by Dr. Ola Tarabzuni

Key Takeaways

  • Ice pick headaches typically involve stabbing pain in the head that lasts only a few seconds. Ice pick headaches, known as primary stabbing headaches, are painful, intense headaches that occur suddenly.
  • This random sharp pain in the head is often described as a sharp shooting pain in the head or a stabbing headache. These ice pick headaches occur without any warning and can be excruciating.
  • Ice pick headaches can occur irrespective of the time of the day, they can occur during sleeping as well. This sharp pain in the head that comes and goes can occur several times within a day and affects different parts of your head.
  • Ice pick headaches are also called idiopathic stabbing headaches or opthalmodynia periodica.
  • People who have a history of migraine or cluster headaches are more prone to experience this random head pain.


An ice pick headache can present as brief jolts of stabbing pain in the head, shooting pain in the head, a throbbing sensation, or a dull ache. Mostly, the pain is felt on the front and sides of the head. It can begin suddenly or gradually and usually lasts a few seconds.

Although the cause is unknown, these Ice-pick headaches are usually triggered due to sleep disturbances, dehydration, excessive stress, colds or fatigue. Those who already have migraine or tension headaches are more likely to experience these random sharp pains in their heads. Rarely, ice pick headaches may reflect a more serious health condition, like a stroke, aneurysm or brain tumor.

This article comprehensively covers the common causes of an ice pick headache and explores the treatm