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Ice Pick Headaches: Causes and Treatment
What is an Ice Pick Headache?
Ice pick headaches are very sudden and extremely painful headaches that last only a matter of seconds.
The pain associated with this type of a headache can be described as a sharp, stabbing pain, thus the name "ice pick." It can be a single stabbing pain or feel like multiple stabs. To me, the pain feels similar to an ice-cream headache, but the pain is stronger and the headache doesn't last as long.
While the pain only lasts for a few seconds, sometimes these headaches can occur in irregular clusters. These headaches are completely spontaneous as it can be days, weeks, months, or even years in between attacks. I had these headaches occasionally since I was a teenager. They are a rare occurrence for me, I'll have them in clusters over a span of a day and then I won't have them again for about a year or two.
Ice Pick Headache Causes & Triggers
The exact cause of ice pick headaches is a mystery to scientists. However, there are some people who are more predisposed to this type of a headache.
Although only 2% of the population ever experiences these headaches, up to 40% of people who have migraines experience ice pick headaches sometime in their lifetime. This type of a headache is also linked to cluster headaches. That said, these headaches usually occur independently of a migraine and cluster attacks.
While ice pick headaches and migraines have the tendency to be comorbid, not everyone who has ice pick headaches suffers from migraines. I suffer from ice pick headaches but have never had a migraine.
There may be a link between ice pick headaches and cranial trauma, cranial lesions, or the herpes virus. However, they aren't typically the sign of another underlying issue, it's always a good idea to notify your physician about them in order to rule out a potential underlying condition.
While there is no known direct cause of ice pick headaches, studies have shown that there are some precipitating factors. Knowing your triggers can help prevent a headache in the future. Common triggers include:
- Bright lights
- High-frequency sounds
- Sudden movement
Do you get ice pick headaches?
What Are YOUR Triggers?
A great way to find out what triggers your headaches is to keep a journal to log your headaches. Date your entries and take notes on what you were doing when (and just before) your headache started.
Here are some of the questions you'll want to answer each time you have a headache, whether or not it's an ice pick:
What does it feel like?
Where are you?
What were you doing before it started?
How long did your headache last?
Were you in a bright environment?
What were the sounds around you?
Aspirin or other over the counter NSAID pain relievers are usually the first options in treating a headache. However, because ice pick headaches last only a matter of seconds, treatment can be difficult.
These headaches are usually gone before you have the chance to reach for a painkiller. By the time the painkiller would kick in, the headache would be ancient history! Pain relief can be a huge help during ice pick headache attacks where you get several of these headaches throughout a short period of time.
The problem with treating these headaches is that they occur so infrequently and last for such a short while that it would almost not be worth the effort. If you suffer from migraines and take medication for preventative measures, this may also help prevent ice picks. However, if you don't suffer from migraines, usually the best course of action is to let a headache pass.
Ibuprofen is an affordable over-the-counter option that can be effective in treating ice picks. Melatonin, an over-the-counter insomnia treatment, has also been shown to be helpful.
Before taking any medication, talk to your doctor. It's important to keep your doctor informed about your headaches, even if you're already being treated for migraines. He or she may prescribe a different medication to control your migraines that can also prevent ice pick headaches.
© 2012 Melanie Palen