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How Does Caffeine Affect Migraines

Caffeine Can Also Trigger Headaches

Dr Darren Green on Headaches

Drinking lots of caffeine won’t help relieve a headache. For example, if you increase your caffeine intake, but don’t increase how much water you’re drinking, caffeine can trigger a headache indirectly by causing you to become more dehydrated.

However, you’re more likely to get a headache from caffeine if you simply drink too much of it too often, because this can lead to dependence.

If you suddenly stop or reduce your caffeine intake after consuming it regularly typically more than 200 mg per day for more than 2 weeks you may feel the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. According to the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders , headaches are the main symptom of caffeine withdrawal.

Caffeine narrows the blood vessels around your brain, so once you stop consuming it regularly, they expand. This causes a significant increase in blood flow to the brain, and that’s what can lead to migraine headaches.

“If you want to get off caffeine, don’t abruptly stop. Taper your intake gradually over a few days. This can help minimize the intense withdrawal headache,” says Stephens.

According to the American Migraine Foundation, it’s possible to avoid caffeine withdrawal symptoms by tapering down your intake to as little as 25 mg of caffeine a day.

What About Caffeine And Other Types Of Headaches

Even those who donât suffer from migraines can experience headaches associated with caffeine intake, such as rebound headaches . Caffeine is prone to dependency, and rebound headaches occur when you consume too much caffeine, subsequently experiencing withdrawal.

For migraine sufferers, rebound headaches may prove to be more devastating, so itâs a smart idea to limit your caffeine intake and decrease your dependency on the stimulant. Decreased dependency will also help caffeine help you in the case of an oncoming migraine: Eric, 30, typically limits himself to one cup of coffee per day, but has found that if he feels an oncoming migraine, drinking a little more coffee can help.

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.

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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.

The majority of migraineurs say that they are aware of at least one trigger that can bring on their symptoms. Triggers include weather patterns, sleep, stress, hormones, drugs, exercise, and diet.

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.

To Drink Coffee Or Not To Drink Coffee

How Does Caffeine Affect Headaches &  Migraines?

Quitting coffee cold turkey isnât necessarily the answer since caffeine affects everyone differently, but having a few alternatives can certainly help you avoid dependency or suffer from a rebound headache. Use a migraine tracking app or journal to carefully monitor your caffeine intake and find the right levels for youâso you can live your best, headache-free life.

The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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What Should You Avoid

While a 2016 study found that migraine intensity in study subjects decreased after discontinuing the use of caffeine, thereâs no reason to avoid it completely if it does not trigger your own headaches, Dr. Crystal says. In fact, consuming coffee has benefits, too.

âCoffee may help prevent neurological diseases, and a compound found in both caffeinated and decaf coffee may help prevent abnormal protein accumulation found in Alzheimerâs and Parkinsonâs patients,â Dr. Crystal says.

Those who are unsure of how caffeine affects their migraines can keep a food journal or use a migraine tracker app to log potential triggers, as well as monitor how much caffeine is a safe amount for you.

In general, Dr. Crystal suggests limiting your caffeine intake to less than 200mg total per day. Thatâs about two cups of coffee, five cups of soda, or one energy drink.

Integrated Treatment For Chronic Headaches

Treating headaches can be complicated. Unfortunately, what works for one person may not work for other people, and it will likely take some trial and error before you find a solution that works well for you.

It’s best to take an integrated approach to get the best results for headache relief. An integrated approach means trying lifestyle adjustments like changing the amount of caffeine you drink, managing stress, taking medications, and exploring alternative medicine like meditation and yoga.

Dont use OTC pain medications to treat headaches more than a few times a week since overuse can cause rebound headaches and make your symptoms worse.

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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.

Why Does Caffeine Give Me A Migraine Or Headache

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Migraines are vascular headaches that cause intense throbbing pain on one side of the head and sensitivity to light, sound, and smell.

They frequently occur with nausea and vomiting as well. Migraines are often accompanied by an aura , which can include flashing lights, shimmering lines, or blind spots that appear before the onset of pain.

The most effective treatments for migraines include medication and behavioral therapy. However, some people have found relief from their migraines by simply eliminating specific triggers from their diet.

Caffeine is one of these triggers it has been shown to increase the risk of migraine by as much as three times in some individuals with a genetic predisposition towards migraines.

When caffeine is consumed, it reaches the brain within minutes and begins stimulating receptors sensitive to adenosine. This causes an increase in dopamine production and releases by neurons.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that affects motor function, mood, pleasure, and motivation. It also increases heart rate and blood pressure by raising epinephrine levels and norepinephrine levels. The increase in these two hormones can lead to headaches after consuming caffeine.

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How Does Caffeine Affect Migraines

I heard that drinking caffeinated beverages brings on migraine headaches, but it makes mine better. Whats the story here?

Andrew Weil, M.D. | September 24, 2019

The role of caffeine in migraines is complex and can vary from person to person. However, new research suggests that the amount of caffeine you ingest on any given day may determine whether or not you develop a migraine headache. Researchers at Bostons Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Womens Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have found that drinking one to two servings of caffeinated drinks arent linked with experiencing these headaches the same day, but three or more servings on one day may raise the risk of developing a migraine that day or the following day.

Study leader Elizabeth Mostofsky, Sc.D. noted that, While some potential triggers such as lack of sleep may only increase migraine risk, the role of caffeine is particularly complex, because it may trigger an attack but also helps control symptoms. Caffeines impact depends both on dose and on frequency of consumption. She added that until now there have been few studies on the immediate risk of migraines following the intake of caffeinated drinks so it has been difficult to recommend how much caffeine migraine patients can safely consume.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Why Does Caffeine Help Treat Migraines

That’s a question scientists have studied for decades and are still trying to understand. Here’s what we know:

  • Caffeine blocks adenosine, which spikes during migraine attacks
  • Caffeine has anti-inflammatory properties
  • Caffeine is a key ingredient in pain-relieving headache medications

Before a headache or a migraine, blood vessels in your brain tend to enlarge, which is what causes pain and throbbing. This is where caffeine helpsbecause of its anti-inflammatory properties, it relieves pain just as well as some OTC medications . Coffee can also help for people who feel they’re becoming more dependent on using OTC medications to treat the pain.

Adenosine levels in your brain also tend to spike during migraine attacks. When caffeine enters your body, it binds itself to the adenosine receptors in your brain, acting as a bouncer, and not allowing adenosine in.

Each caplet of Excedrin Extra Strength Pain Reliever contains 65 mg of caffeine . But for someone looking for a more natural remedy for their migraines, coffee may be the answer.

Be careful, thoughtoo much caffeine has been found to trigger migraines in certain people. There’s also also caffeine withdrawal, which can cause you even more pain. Because of this, consuming too much caffeine and then cutting back causes headaches in many people. The best solution? Find what works for you.

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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 .

How Coffee Can Help Your Headaches

Fast Take: Should You Avoid Caffeine If You Suffer from Migraines ...

If you suffer from migraines, there’s really no way to describe the paina throbbing head, neck pain, sensitivity to light, and even nausea are only some of the symptoms that could leave you completely debilitated until you feel relief. But how long does that take?

Your options include waiting it out, taking an over-the-counter medication, or paying your doctor a visit if you’re getting three or more headaches a week. There’s another option, too, that many people use for reliefstrong coffee.

The link between migraine medications and coffee is one key ingredient: Caffeine. Some people, like one of our community members Gail Dunmyer, found that strong coffee treats their migraines just as wellif not better than medication. For Gail, the answer to her migraines was Death Wish Coffee.

“Several years ago I was looking online for a strong coffee to use for migraines, not wanting to use caffeine pills,” Gail said. ‘”I remember searching for ‘strongest coffee’ … I couldnt believe my luck that not only did it cure my headaches, but that I couldnt drink any other coffee after that.”‘

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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.

    Caffeine And Headaches: A Strange And Complicated Relationship

    This is an evidence based article

    This article has been written by experts and fact-checked by experts, including licensed nutritionists, dietitians or medical professionals. The information in the article is based on scientific studies and research.

    It is designed to be honest, unbiased and objective, and opinions from both sides of an argument are presented wherever there is disagreement.

    The scientific references in this article are clickable links to peer-reviewed research material on the subject being discussed.

    Many of us have experienced, seen, or at least heard of an odd medical phenomenon.

    • Some people who take a dose of Nyquil dont get a good nights sleep. Theyre up all night.
    • Some people who take anti-anxiety medications end up having panic attacks.
    • Some people taking prescription opioids find that their pain actually gets worse.

    In the medical world, those counter-intuitive experiences are called paradoxical reactions. The exact reasons for them arent clear, but generally speaking, they seem be related to defects or deficiencies in the way the brain responds to signals from the central nervous system.

    Paradoxical reactions are most often seen in patients taking the sedatives known as benzodiazepines, but they can occur when taking almost any medication or drug.

    And they happen with caffeine, too.

    And, as you probably know, headaches can also result from caffeine withdrawal.

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    Can Caffeine Help A Migraine

    Caffeine is effective in helping the symptoms of migraine headaches. Still, it is essential to note that it can also cause a headache or worsen one. It can help a migraine in several ways.

    The first way is by blocking adenosine, a substance that causes drowsiness. The second way is by causing your brain to release dopamine, which provides relief from pain.

    The third way is by affecting serotonin levels in the brain, which can help prevent headaches from occurring in the first place.

    Does Caffeine Treat Or Trigger Headaches

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    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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