Ice Pick Headache

Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2016 May;20(5):30. doi: 10.1007/s11916-016-0559-7.


Ice pick headache, also called idiopathic or primary stabbing headache, is a unique headache type associated with ultra-brief stabs of pain, most commonly in the frontal or temporal area. It occurs predominantly in women and is estimated to affect 2-35% of the population. Unlike other headache types of short duration, such as short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache with conjunctival injection and tearing (SUNCT), ice pick headache is not associated with any cranial autonomic symptoms but has been known to occur with nausea, vomiting, photophobia, and dizziness. It exists in two forms: primary and secondary, with examples of secondary causes being herpes zoster meningoencephalitis, meningiomas, stroke, and multiple sclerosis. Ice pick headache is one of the "indomethacin responsive headaches," but up to 35% of patients fail to show significant benefit with that treatment. Other treatment options include gabapentin, cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitors, melatonin, and external hand warming.

Keywords: Ice pick headache; Idiopathic stabbing headache; Indomethacin responsive; Jabs and jolts; Primary stabbing headache.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cluster Headache / diagnosis
  • Cluster Headache / drug therapy*
  • Cluster Headache / epidemiology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Frontal Lobe / physiopathology*
  • Headache Disorders, Primary / diagnosis
  • Headache Disorders, Primary / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Indomethacin / therapeutic use*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiopathology*


  • Indomethacin