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Can Too Much Coffee Cause Migraines

Study: Excess Caffeine Intake Is A Migraine Trigger

Migraines Caused by Too Much Coffee?

In a study in The American Journal of Medicine, 98 participants with episodic migraine completed an electronic diary each morning and evening for six weeks.

Within the diary, the participants reported their caffeinated beverage intake, as well as their migraine characteristics and other lifestyle factors .

How Much Caffeine Is In This

Food and drinks can vary in the amount of caffeine they have. Here are approximate amounts per item:

  • 12 ounces of caffeinated soft drink: 30-40 milligrams
  • 8 ounces of green or black tea: 30-50 milligrams
  • 8 ounces of coffee: 80-100 milligrams
  • 8 ounces of decaf coffee: 2-15 milligrams
  • 8 ounces of energy drink: 40-250 milligrams
  • 1 ounces of dark chocolate: 12 milligrams

These are averages. Always read the label to make sure you aren’t consuming more caffeine than intended.

Caffeine can be part of a healthy diet for most people. However, having more than four or five cups a day could be dangerous for your health. This article discusses how much caffeine is too much. Learn the signs and symptoms that appear when you overindulge in caffeine and what to do to reduce your intake and feel better.

Drinking This Much Coffee May Trigger Migraines

Three or more caffeinated drinks a day is linked with migraines.

Drinking too much coffee or other caffeinated drinks may be a trigger for migraines among people prone to these severe headaches, a new study suggests.

The study researchers found that, among people with periodic migraine headaches, consuming at least three caffeinated drinks a day was tied to a higher likelihood of experiencing a migraine on that day or the following day. However, consuming only one or two caffeinated drinks a day was generally not associated with migraines, the study found.

Although many people anecdotally report that caffeine tends to trigger their migraines, few rigorous studies have examined this link. Indeed, the new study, published today in The American Journal of Medicine, is one of the first to examine whether daily changes in caffeine intake are tied to the onset of migraines.

“Interestingly, despite some patients with episodic migraine thinking they need to avoid caffeine, we found that drinking one to two servings day was not associated with higher risk of headache,” study senior author Dr. Suzanne Bertisch, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and a clinical investigator in the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said in a statement. Still, more research is needed to confirm the findings “but it is an important first step,” Bertisch said.

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Caffeine Headache As A Withdrawal Symptom

On the flipside, if youve ever tried to cut back on caffeine, you know that headaches can occur as a result. And it doesnt matter what foods or drinks the caffeine comes from the issue is whether you have a regular habit of consuming about the same amount of caffeine every day. If you suddenly get a lot less caffeine, you’ll likely have a headache.

Caffeine withdrawal isnt just something that happens to people who drink a lot of coffee or caffeinated beverages it can happen to people to drink as little as one small cup of coffee per day, according to StatPearls.

The incidence of headache as a result of caffeine withdrawal can be as high as 50 percent and thats in the general population, not just in people who have migraine.

How Exactly Does Caffeine Improve Headache Treatments

This Is What Happens When You Drink Too Much Coffee

Blood vessels tend to dilate before a headache. Caffeine has vasoconstrictive properties, meaning it narrows blood vessels, restricting blood flow. Since caffeine prevents the dilation of blood vessels, it tends to prevent headaches. There are likely many more ways that caffeine works to reduce headache pain that arent fully understood.

Many OTC headache treatments, such as Excedrin, and some prescription headache medications actually contain caffeine, according to Cleveland Clinic. Because of this, some people might find that a simple cup of coffee relieves their headaches. If youre not a fan of coffee but you want to use caffeine to soothe your headache, consider trying green or black tea both contain caffeine.

However, you should be careful when treating a headache with caffeine, as you can overdose and there are some potential side effects.

On the other hand, caffeine can cause headaches.

Caffeine can make you urinate more, potentially dehydrating you. In turn, dehydration can cause headaches.

Headaches can also be caused by a caffeine overdose. According to Mayo Clinic, overdosing on caffeine can cause headaches as well as a range of other side effects. Daily maximum should be 400 milligrams of caffeine, although some people might only be able to tolerate less. This is the equivalent of about four cups of brewed coffee a day. This can vary depending on the strength of the coffee.

  • chocolate
  • energy drinks
  • some soft drinks

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Breaking Down The Data

A sample of 98 adults with frequent episodic migraines completed electronic diaries each morning and evening every day for six weeks. The total servings of caffeinated coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks consumed were recorded each day, along with twice daily headache reports documenting the onset, duration, intensity and medications used for each migraine since the previous diary entry. Other common migraine triggers that each participant normally experiences was recorded as well.

A self-matched analysis was used to evaluate the linkbetween caffeinated drinks and migraines on the same or following day.Researchers compared each participants occurrence of migraines on days withand without caffeine intake, eliminating the chance of factors such as age,sex, and other behavioral and environmental factors to intrude with data. Thisstrategy also accommodated for various caffeine dosages and serving sizesconsumed by participants.

The end result? For regular caffeine consumers, one to two servings thats 8 oz. of coffee, 6 oz. of tea, 12 oz. of soda, or 2 oz. of energy drink had no effect on migraines on the same or following day. Headaches were more often onset by three or more servings of caffeinated drinks for regular consumers, and one to two servings for those who rarely consume caffeine.

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?

Kelli Tornstrom is a nurse practitioner in Neurology in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

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Using Caffeine As A Treatment

When youre having a caffeine withdrawal headache, the easiest thing to do might just be to give your body the caffeine that it wants. Here are a few ways you can try it:

Have a cup of coffee or another caffeinated beverage

If youre positive this is a withdrawal headache, try having a dose of caffeine as soon as you realize whats going on. Your usual caffeinated beverage is fine to drink. Dont overdo it to make up for what you missed.

However, if you think your headache is from a caffeine overdose, dont consume more caffeine it could lead to serious health problems! Contact your healthcare provider instead.

Take an OTC medication that includes caffeine

Some pain relievers are made with caffeine, including Excedrin. Caffeine can help your body absorb the medicine faster and can make them up to 40 percent more effective, which is promising.

Combine treatments

Try drinking a caffeinated beverage and taking Advil or Tylenol. A 2017 study found that people with migraine experienced faster relief when they took acetaminophen or ibuprofen with caffeine.

What Is A Caffeine Headache

Too Much Caffeine Can Cause Headaches

A caffeine headache occurs when someone who consumes caffeine regularly skips their usual dose. This doesnt only happen to people who drink excessive amounts of caffeine every day. Even someone who just has one small cup of coffee each morning can experience caffeine headaches.

FYI, the FDA says about four 8-ounce cups of coffee or 400 milligrams a day is a safe amount to consume.

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Why Does Caffeine Give Me A Headache

The average American consumes 227 milligrams of caffeine every day — equal to about three cups of coffee. For most people, caffeine is perfectly harmless and triggers no side effects. In more sensitive people, however, it might trigger anything from shakiness to dehydration to increased urination. Some people might also develop headaches associated with caffeine.

Is Your Headache Related To Caffeine Withdrawal

If your headache occurs a few hours after you last consumed caffeine or missed your normal cup of coffee or energy drink, that could be a sign that its related to a caffeine deficit, says Spears.

Typically, the mid-to-late morning is a common time for a caffeine withdrawal headache, because a lot of people with start their day with coffee or something like that, he says.

A caffeine withdrawal headache can feel different from a migraine attack, he says. The headache has a mild to moderate profile, and it tends to not have the migraine-like features, says Spears.

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Migraine Headaches: Still Mysterious After All These Years

Migraine headaches are quite common: more than a billion people reportedly suffer from migraines worldwide. Yet, the cause has long been a mystery and it still is.

Until recently, the going theory was that blood vessels around the brain go into spasm, temporarily constricting and limiting blood flow. Then, when the blood vessels open up, the rush of incoming blood flow leads to the actual headache.

That theory has fallen out of favor. Now, the thinking is that migraines are due to waves of electrical activity spreading across the outer portions of the brain, leading to inflammation and overreactive nerve cells that send inappropriate pain signals. Why this begins in the first place is unknown.

Migraines tend to run in families, so genetic factors are likely important. In addition, chemical messengers within the brain, such as serotonin, may also play a central role in the development of migraines, though the mechanisms remain uncertain.

People prone to migraines may experience more headaches after coffee consumption , but coffee itself, or the caffeine it contains, is not considered the actual cause of migraines. Certain foods or drinks like coffee are thought to trigger episodes of migraine, but the true cause is not known.

Caffeines Effect On Headaches


Earlier, we asked you to remember two important points.

  • During a headache, blood vessels in the brain expand, contacting nerves and causing pain.
  • Caffeine acts as a vasoconstrictor in the brain, causing blood vessels to contract.
  • Theres your answer. When caffeine causes blood vessels to contract, that relieves the nerve pressure which is a major cause of headache pain. So adding caffeine to OTC pain relievers attacks the problem from two angles: easing the pain itself, and removing or reducing one of its root causes. Some studies show that adding caffeine makes pain relievers as much as 40% more effective.

    That also explains why a couple of cups of coffee or Lipton black tea , a few caffeinated beverages, or energy drinks may ease or chase away head pain. The caffeine causes blood vessels to constrict, leading to pain relief.

    If youre going to drink coffee to treat a headache or migraine, two cups should do it. Much more, and you could be asking for trouble. More on that shortly.

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    Migraine Vs Caffeine Withdrawal

    Another way that caffeine may indirectly lead to an intense headacheor what feels like a migraineis through withdrawal. For example, if youve been drinking two cups of coffee per day for the last number of months or years and stop cold turkey, youll likely feel it one way or another. One effect could be severe headaches, as your body gets used to going without something its grown accustomed to having.

    When caffeine is consumed, it activates adenosine receptors, which is what staves off drowsiness and keeps you alert. As you consume caffeine more frequently, you may require more of it to get the same effect as tolerance builds. Cutting off that supplywhich may have turned into a dependencecan lead to withdrawal.

    If youve recently stopped drinking coffee cold turkey and have been experiencing extremely painful headaches there are a couple of options. The first is to stick it outyou should be over it within a few days. The second is to slowly wean yourself off coffee by lowering consumption daily.

    The Causes Of Caffeine Headaches

    When we drink coffee, or any caffeinated beverages the caffeine causes the blood vessels in the brain to constrict. When you stop the caffeine intake, the blood vessels in the brain dilate. This increases the blood flow and can trigger a headache. If you decide to drink caffeine, it is recommended that you increase your water consumption to compensate for its dehydration effects.

    Although a caffeine headache is most commonly caused by withdrawal, it can also be triggered by excessive intake, medication overuse, caffeine sensitivity, allergic reaction, or a fluctuation of caffeine consumption from day to day.

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    Caffeine Withdrawal May Cause Headache Nausea Depression

    Medical practitioners are advised to question patients presenting with possible symptoms of caffeine overdose about their ingestion of caffeine from the less obvious sources such as guarana preparations, dietary supplements used for fitness and energy drinks, as well as from coffee, tea and chocolate.

    An individual withdrawing from caffeine because of a chronic toxic overdose may experience symptoms of withdrawal including headache, nausea, nervousness, reduced alertness and depressed mood. These symptoms are most acute during the first 20-48 hours, but they may persist for as long as 7 days2. Discontinuation of caffeine at even a moderate intake can lead to these symptoms. There is also a danger of developing dependence by having that cup of coffee for the headache caused by caffeine withdrawal.

  • Chou TM, Benowitz NL. Caffeine and coffee: effects on health and cardiovascular disease. Comparative Biochem & Physiol. Part C Pharmacol Toxicol & Endocrinol 1994 109:173-89
  • Lamarine RJ. Selected health and behavioural effects related to the use of caffeine. J Community Health 1994 19:449-66.
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    How much caffeine is too much for migraine sufferers? | GMA

    Many people also have symptoms such as feeling sick, being sick and increased sensitivity to light or sound.

    TheMigraine Research Foundation states that migraine is the third most prevalent illness in the world and affects approximately 1.04 billion adults worldwide.

    In the prospective cohort study, 98 adults completed electronic diaries every morning and every evening for at least six weeks.

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    How To Minimize Caffeine Withdrawal Headaches

    If youre trying to reduce your caffeine dependency by dialing back on your intake, unpleasant withdrawal symptoms can put a damper on your efforts. Minimize caffeine withdrawal headaches using the following techniques:

    • Wean off your caffeine intake gradually by reducing your intake by 25% each week. You can also try swapping out some of your regular coffee with decaf if you crave the taste of a steaming cup of coffee.
    • Read food labels to ensure that youre not consuming extra caffeine you arent aware of.
    • Use peppermint oil topically to help relieve inflammation and tighten muscles associated with headaches.
    • Drink plenty of water since dehydration can cause the brain to shrink in volume and cause a headache.
    • Apply an ice pack to your head to alter the blood flow or numb the area.
    • Stimulate pressure points to relieve muscle tension, which can cause headaches.
    • Get enough rest by taking naps or going to bed earlier than usual.

    Caffeine headaches can be caused by a variety of triggers and withdrawal is one of the most common reasons. You can track your caffeine intake and notice how your body reacts so you can adjust your consumption and find the best way to wean your body from caffeine dependency while minimizing the withdrawal symptoms.


    Caffeine As A Risk Factor For Chronic Migraine

    Theres evidence that too much caffeine consumption is a risk factor for developing chronic migraine, says Spears.

    Chronic migraine is when a person experiences 15 or more days per month of headache with migrainous features, according to the Migraine Research Foundation.

    Its estimated that chronic migraine affects about 1 to 2 percent of the general population and close to 8 percent of people with migraine. Each year approximately 3 percent of people with episodic migraine convert to having chronic migraine each year, according to a paper published in 2016 in the Nature Reviews Neurology.

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    Caffeine Can Contribute To Medication

    The International Headache Society defines medication-overuse headache as a headache occurring on 15 or more days per month in a person with a preexisting primary headache disorder, such as migraine, and developing as a consequence of regular overuse of acute or symptomatic headache medication for more than three months.

    There are several medications linked with MOH, including combination pain relievers that contain aspirin and caffeine.

    However, its not only medications with caffeine that are associated with this type of headache: Caffeine intake at levels of 100 to 200 mg per day is probably enough to contribute to medication overuse headache, says Stewart Tepper, MD, professor of neurology at the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine in Hanover, New Hampshire.

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