The Downside Of Caffeine
Yes, caffeine helps many people during a migraine attack. However, studies show that up to 1 in 3 people find caffeine actually triggers migraine symptoms. These same studies suggest that some people with migraine should avoid caffeine completely. Others should consume no more than 200 mg a day. Some people are more sensitive and their bodies react with a headache or migraine with as little as 10 mg of caffeine a day.1,4
What seems to be the difference in how people respond to caffeine? People who consume caffeine daily or near-daily may develop a tolerance for the drug. This means that it takes more caffeine to get the same effect. Then the body comes to expect caffeine and revolts if it does not get it. This may trigger head pain, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and nausea.1
Doctors believe a ârebound headacheâ is caused when the blood vessels open up without caffeine to keep the vessels narrow. Also, long-term caffeine use may change how adenosine acts in the brain.1
This is why some doctors recommend that people with severe or chronic migraines avoid caffeine completely. This includes caffeine found in food, drink, and medicine. However, anyone who is consuming caffeine regularly and in higher amounts should not stop cold turkey. It is important to slowly decrease caffeine consumed to avoid a migraine or rebound headache.1
It is important to talk with your doctor about how much caffeine you consume as you work to manage your migraines.
How Much Caffeine You Should Consume To Relieve Headaches
Overall, Stephens says it’s important to consume caffeine in moderation. That way, you can stave off any potential episodes of withdrawal.
“The right amount is under 400 mg of caffeine per day,” says Stephens. That’s around two to four cups of coffee, depending on how long it’s brewed for, as well as how strong the coffee you’re drinking is.
But When Does Caffeine Help A Migraine
Caffeine is what Dr. Crystal calls a âdouble-edged sword,â because while it can trigger headaches, itâs also an active ingredient in some migraine relief medications.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, caffeine affects the activity of adenosine, a naturally occuring and necessary brain substance. During migraine attacks, adenosine levels in the blood rise. Caffeine can block specific brain cell receptors adenosine typically bind to, stopping its effects. Caffeine also has vasoconstrictive properties that can restrict blood flow. Since blood vessels vasodilate, or get larger, before a migraine attack, caffeine can help counterbalance that effect, thus decreasing pain.
âCaffeine helps relieve headaches by its own analgesic, or alleviating, effects, and by enhancing the analgesic effects of aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen,â Dr. Crystal says.
Thereâs still much research to be done to determine exactly how caffeine results in acute anti-migraine and pain control, but the evidence is there: A 2017 study published by The Journal of Headache and Pain found that combining caffeine over-the-counter pain relief medications significantly improved relief compared to using the medication alone. And while treating headaches with non-medical options is sometimes effective, The American Migraine Foundation recommends limiting this to two days a week.
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Foods That Have Caffeine
Caffeine is found in many foods and drinks, but the amount of caffeine per serving can vary greatly. Some common examples include:2
- Regular coffee : 30 to 164 mg, depending on how it is made
- 2 to 5 mg
- Tea : 8 to 110 mg, depending on how it is made and what type of tea it is
- Chocolate: 9 to 18 mg depending on brand and amount
- Hot cocoa : 2 to 8 mg
- Soft drinks : 36 to 57 mg depending on the brand
- Energy drinks : 47 to 500 mg
Caffeine As An Aid For Migraine Symptoms
Caffeine can help to relieve symptoms of a migraine attack and also speed up the pain-relieving effect of over-the-counter medications like Tylenol . According to the American Migraine Foundation, caffeine can enhance the bodys ability to absorb pain-relieving medications and is even included as an ingredient in migraine medications like Excedrin, Migranal, Anacin, and Midol.
A systematic review examined findings related to caffeine and headaches and found that compared to taking analgesic medications alone, people who ingested caffeine with analgesics like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and acetylsalicylic acid experienced more effective pain relief for their migraines or tension-type headaches.
Caffeine intake through coffee, tea, soft drinks, or energy drinks is a common home remedy for people who experience migraines, and it is sometimes recommended by doctors as a treatment for headaches .
I try to drink a lot of water, get some caffeine, and just do the best I can, wrote a member on MyMigraineTeam on dealing with a migraine attack.
There are several mechanisms by which caffeine may work to relieve migraine symptoms.
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Can Caffeine Itself Be The Culprit
Theres another possible reason your head is pounding: the caffeine itself. While its true that caffeine is often used to relieve headaches , its also true that it can sometimes cause headaches.
Some more bad news if youve got migraine but you love your lattes: One small 2016 study found that eliminating caffeine intake helped other headache treatments work better.
Another 2019 study found a link between caffeine use and migraine. Researchers say that the odds of having a migraine attack increased for people drinking three or more caffeinated beverages a day.
Whether a headache is caused by the caffeine or the withdrawal will vary from person to person. Remember, caffeine is a drug and everyone reacts differently.
Caffeine May Help Relieve Headaches
The pain you experience with headaches specifically migraines is typically caused by the enlargement of blood vessels around your brain, which increases the amount of blood flow to your brain. This change in blood flow triggers a number of complicated mechanisms in the brain that can lead to headaches.
Caffeine narrows these blood vessels and is known to have “vasoconstrictive” properties. This means that it constricts vessels and reduces the blood flow to your brain, and as a result, it can help relieve migraine pain.
For example, a 2009 study published in the Human Brain Mapping Journal found that caffeine reduced cerebral blood flow that’s the blood supply to the brain by an average of 27%.
In this way, caffeine can help stop you from developing migraines in the first place, as well as relieving pain once you already have one.
Caffeine can also help relieve headaches by improving the effectiveness of pain relief medication. In fact, it’s a key ingredient in headache medications like Excerdine and Anacin, because it helps you absorb the active ingredients in the medication.
For example, a 2017 review published in The Journal of Headache and Pain studied the results of seven different controlled trials on patients who suffered from migraines or tension-type headaches over a 40-year period. The researchers found that over-the-counter pain relief medication containing caffeine works faster and more effectively than pain relief medication alone.
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What Happens During A Migraine
Every migraine begins differently. Sometimes people get a warning that a migraine is on its way. A few hours or even days before the actual headache, people might feel funny or “not right. They might crave different foods, or feel thirsty, irritable, tired, or even full of energy. This is called a “premonition.”
Some people get auras. These are neurological symptoms that start just before the headache and last up to an hour. An aura is different in every person, but it often affects vision. For example, a person might:
- have blurred vision
- see spots, colored balls, jagged lines, or bright flashing lights
- smell a certain odor
- feel tingling in a part of their face
Once the headache starts, light, smell, or sound may bother people with migraines or make them feel worse. Sometimes, if they try to continue with their usual routine, they may become nauseated and vomit. Often the pain begins only on one side of the head, but it might eventually affect both sides. Trying to do physical activities can make the pain worse.
Most migraines last from 30 minutes to several hours some can last a couple of days.
Key Points About Caffeine And Migraines
- Caffeine affects pain.
- Acute treatment of headaches with caffeine is sometimes effective but should be limited to not more than two days per week.
- For people who experience migraine, caffeine taken three or more days per week, for whatever reason, may lead to dependency and increased migraine frequency.
- For those who have frequent headaches, avoidance of all caffeine is ideal, and at least until improvement in headache frequency is seen.
Migraine patients often report that a strong cup of coffee can stop some attacks. This is not surprising to hear. Caffeine is a key active ingredient in many headache medications including ExcedrinTM, AnacinTM, MidolTM, Darvon CompoundTM, FioricetTM, and MigranalTM. Caffeine may aid in the bodys absorption of these medicines, but can caffeine itself relieve headaches? Few research studies have examined this question, but the answer appears to be yes. Caffeine can provide some headache relief. For example, one small controlled study found that caffeine was better than placebo, and as good as acetaminophen, in relieving tension-type headaches.
We dont fully understand the mechanisms underlying the different effects of caffeine on the brain. However, the specific targets of action of caffeine in the brain and nerves outside the brain are known.
Robert E. Shapiro, MD, Ph.D., Professor of Neurology, University of Vermont College of Medicine, Burlington, VT.
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How Much Caffeine Will Help With Migraines
Dont put your mug away so fast. According to research from the American Journal of Medicine, for patients who experience episodic migraines, one to two servings of caffeine may limit headache occurrence throughout the day. Once a person reaches three or more servings, though, thats where you can run into trouble.
How Many Caffeinated Drinks Does It Take To Trigger Migraine
What triggers migraine headaches? Scientists studying caffeine consumption estimate that drinking three or more caffeinated beverages increases the odds of experiencing a migraine headache on the same day.
According to the , headache disorders are some of the most common to affect the nervous system.
Migraine is a form of primary headache disorder.
The term primary refers to the fact that the underlying causes are unclear.
In the United States, 12% of the population experience migraine. This includes adults and children.
When it comes to caffeine, the amount a person drinks may be the central factor in whether or not it is a trigger. According to the American Migraine Foundation, some people find it helpful to use a small amount of caffeine to stop some of their migraine headaches. Others may have more frequent migraine headaches with regular caffeine consumption.
Although there is anecdotal evidence of caffeines potential Jekyll-and-Hyde nature, clinical data from migraineurs is rare.
A new study paper, which now appears in The American Journal of Medicine, sheds some light on this conundrum.
Elizabeth Mostofsky, from the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, is the first author of the study.
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Caffeine And Migraines: Does It Hurt Or Help
Caffeine can be both a source of relief and a trigger for migraine attacks. Caffeine and medications that contain caffeine can help to address the early pain symptoms of a migraine, and caffeine withdrawal or overuse may contribute to migraine attacks and headaches.
Some members of MyMigraineTeam, the social network for people with migraines, comment about their use of caffeine to alleviate migraine symptoms. When I have a migraine and the tablets arent working, if I take them with coffee, it helps a lot, wrote one member.
However, other MyMigraineTeam members say how caffeine triggers their migraines. Caffeine can be a super migraine trigger in many of us. I love coffee drinks and Diet Coke, but it is usually not worth it because I need more caffeine the next day, said one member.
Migraines affect more than 1 billion people worldwide and an estimated 23 million to 25 million Americans, but there is still a lack of concrete understanding about the underlying causes and effective methods for treating migraine attacks. Migraines are a highly personal experience different people experience different symptoms and triggers, including hormonal changes, food and food additives, stress, and even changing weather patterns.
For people who dont already consume caffeine daily, caffeine use should be approached cautiously and possibly with the consultation of a doctor, as there is a high chance of caffeine dependency.
A Headache Caffeine Connection The Good News
Caffeine has long been used as a headache remedy. But why does it help?
Migraine sufferers may be especially interested in the way caffeine constricts blood vessels. Blood vessels increasing in size is one of the common occurrences when youre having a migraine. Many migraine medications focus on getting the blood vessels back to their normal size before they wreak havoc on the nerves around them. Some migraine sufferers find that a coffee or coke early on in their headache will keep it at bay.
In medications, caffeine seems to increase the value of the painkillers also. This is why its afton included various types of , for example.
As a stimulant, it may be that that little pick-me-up is all you need to keep a headache from hitting. This is compounded by the sugar added to coffee or found in colas.
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Does Caffeine Treat Or Trigger Headaches
Many people ask whether caffeine can treat or trigger a headache. The answer is that caffeine can do both.
Caffeine can provide relief for a headache.
During a headache, blood vessels swell, tighten or go through other changes, causing an increase in blood flow around the brain. This increase blood flow pressures surrounding nerves, which send pain messages to the brain. This brings on the headache.
Caffeine has vasoconstrictive properties, meaning that blood vessels narrow to restrict blood flow, thereby alleviating the pain. Also, when caffeine is taken in combination with pain medicines, such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen, it increases the absorption and strength of the medication to provide faster relief.
Caffeine can trigger a headache.
When caffeine is consumed regularly, the body becomes dependent on its effects. And because caffeine narrows the blood vessels that surround the brain, when consumption is stopped, the blood vessels enlarge. This causes an increase in blood flow around the brain and pressures surrounding nerves. This can then trigger what is known as a caffeine withdrawal headache. Withdrawal headaches can last for a couple of weeks because it takes the body a while to adjust to not having caffeine in its system.
What should you do?
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Does Taking Too Much Caffeine Cause Headaches
Taking too much caffeine can cause a caffeine overdose. This often happens when you are experiencing a withdrawal, where the blood vessels expand, allowing the pain signals to reach your brain and make you feel uncomfortable again.
Symptoms of this overdose include:
- Breathing difficulties
I suggest taking a low to moderate amount of caffeine to relieve your headache or migraine.
Once youre feeling better, you should lay off the caffeinated beverages for a few days to allow your body to rest.
If not youll probably end up with a case of chronic daily headaches, a condition that refers to any type of headaches that frequently occur during at least 15 days every month for a duration of half a year or more.
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A Major Health Problem
Migraine headaches are very common and are a major health problem across the planet. Just in the United States, there are about 38 million migraine patients, both adults and children, says the Migraine Research Foundation. That is about 1 in 4 households with people prone to migraines.
Many people do not realize how serious and debilitating migraine can be, the foundation writes. In addition to attack-related disability, migraine interferes with a sufferers ability to function in everyday life, whether that is going to school or work, caring for family or enjoying social activities.
And so far, all of the efforts of researchers, pharmacologists and doctors to combat this terrible illness have not come up with a cure. But there are some things that help, including caffeine.
Can Coffeecaffeinealso Relieve Your Migraine
Interestingly enough, there is also evidence that caffeine helps relieve headaches. Of course, migraines arent your typical headache, so traditional forms of relief might not always work.
As mentioned earlier, there is caffeine in most over-the-counter painkillers. This is based on research indicating that caffeine can relieve headaches. There are a number of reviews and studies showing that moderate caffeine intake can boost the efficacy of painkillers, as well as offer relief to both tension and migraine headaches.
A 2017 review published in The Journal of Headache and Pain found that, depending on dosing and individual factors, caffeine may help prevent or treat migraine headaches.
Caffeine may offer pain relief by acting as a vasoconstrictormaking blood vessels smaller. Before and during headaches, blood vessels get bigger to allow more blood flow to the region, and that can result in pain and inflammation.
Limiting blood flow to the region may be just one way that caffeine helps prevent and relieve headaches. Once again, this would be dose- and time-dependent. Drinking a coffee to treat a nighttime headache, for example, is probably not a good idea: it will keep you up and likely lead to discomfort the following day .
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