Increased Intracranial Pressure (ICP) Headache

A brain injury or another medical condition can cause growing pressure inside your skull. This dangerous condition is called increased intracranial pressure (ICP) and can lead to an ICP headache. The pressure also can injure your brain or spinal cord.

This kind of headache is an emergency and requires immediate medical attention. The sooner you get help, the more likely you are to recover.

Facts about ICP headache

Causes of this type of headache include:

  • Too much cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid around your brain)

  • A tumor causing pressure on some part of your brain

  • Bleeding into the brain

  • Swelling in the brain

These medical conditions can cause ICP:

  • Aneurysm

  • Blood pooling in some part of the brain

  • Brain injury

  • Brain tumor

  • Encephalitis

  • Hydrocephalus

  • High blood pressure

  • Meningitis

  • Stroke


These symptoms may go along with an ICP headache:

  • Blurred vision

  • Feeling less alert than usual

  • Vomiting

  • Changes in your behavior

  • Weakness or problems with moving or talking

  • Lack of energy or sleepiness

When to call a doctor

Call your doctor or 911 if you have any of the symptoms listed above. Do not wait.


Your doctor will typically take a medical history and do a physical exam. You may also undergo imaging tests, which show what is going on inside the brain, or a spinal tap, which measures the pressure of cerebrospinal fluid.


Intracranial pressure is an emergency. Treatment might include:

  • Medication to reduce swelling

  • Draining extra cerebrospinal fluid or bleeding around the brain

  • Removing part of the skull to ease swelling (though this is rare)

You may also be treated for the underlying cause of your intracranial pressure, which could be an infection, a tumor, or a stroke.


ICP has serious complications, such as:

  • Seizures

  • Stroke

  • Neurological damage

  • Death


You cannot prevent an intracranial pressure headache, but if you experience any of the symptoms, you need to get medical attention immediately.