Can Caffeine Help or Worsen Your Headaches?

Caffeine and Headaches


Headaches are extremely common. Nearly everyone has a headache occasionally. When they occur repeatedly, they are a symptom of a headache disorder. The most common headache disorder is tension-type headache. In developed countries, tension-type headache affects over one third of men and over one half of women. Up to 1 adult in 20 has a headache every – or nearly every – day.

What Are Migraines?

Migraine is also very common affecting at least 1 adult in every 7 in the world. It is up to 3 times more common in women than men, a difference that seems to be hormonally-driven. Often starting at puberty, migraines most affects those aged between 35 and 45 years but can trouble much younger people, including children. Attacks are typically characterized by throbbing or pulsing pain with light and sound sensitivity, and sometimes nausea and vomiting.

How Can You Treat Migraines?

Treatments for migraines are varied, but one strategy that can help with migraine treatment and prevention is to identifying possible triggers: things, situations or activities that seem to up your likelihood of getting a migraine. While triggers aren’t always clear-cut, keeping a headache diary in an attempt to identify – and ultimately – avoid triggers can be helpful.

What Are Some Things That Trigger Migraines?

Triggers vary from person to person, and even from day to day depending on your susceptibility to getting a headache. You might normally be able to tolerate a glass of wine or a missed meal just fine, for instance, but add a bad night’s sleep, or a stressful week at work, and it might be enough to cause you to want to retreat. Other possible triggers include certain foods like cheese, red wine, chemicals such as monosodium glutamate, medications or simply missing your morning cup of Java. The good news is that when combined with a generally healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, regular exercise and stress management, migraines can actually be kept at bay. The caffeine story is an interesting one….

What is Caffeine and Does Coffee Cause Headaches?

Caffeine is a commonly used drug that increases alertness, decreases fatigue, and improves muscle coordination. Though coffee comes to mind as the most common source of caffeine, it’s also naturally found in tea and chocolate, and is often added to soft drinks and non-prescription drugs like pain-relievers and cold remedies. Caffeine additives make pain relievers 40% more effective in treating headaches, because it helps the body absorb headache drugs more quickly which brings faster relief. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, which can lead to constriction of blood vessels in the brain. This in turn promotes alertness and can minimize migraine headaches.

Using Caffeine to Treat Migraines

The most notable beverages that contain caffeine are coffee, tea, energy drinks and sodas. The amount of caffeine in these beverages ranges from 30 to 400 mg per serving. Migraine medicines like Excedrin and Anacin contain caffeine with other pain relievers to treat migraine headaches. Many over-the-counter and prescription medications such as migraine medications, diuretics, appetite suppressants, alert inducers and cold medications contain caffeine.

Caffeine is also naturally occurring in Guarana, Cocoa (chocolate), and Yerba Mate. Caffeine is frequently added to soda beverages, however soda is not recommended for migraine relief due to the high sugar content. These can cause spikes in blood sugar, which may worsen the symptoms of aheadache. However, before using caffeine or any substance to treat a headache, it’s always best to check with your doctor to make sure your headache is diagnosed correctly. Your doctor can then guide you about the best strategy to treat your symptoms. As always, balancing your life with a healthy diet and lots of cardiovascular exercise and strength training will also help to minimize stress and promote a life of long healthy habits.

Until next time!
Elizabeth Salada MD
Internal Medicine and Wellness

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