Does Caffeine Trigger or Treat Headaches?

Dr. Amarjeet Bhatia    28-03-2017 Consult

Caffeine can be a double-edged sword for those with headache. It can serve as a treatment or, in some cases, can cause withdrawal or a phenomenon known as medicine overuse or "rebound" headache. 

Caffeine can be a headache trigger or headache inhibitor. Caffeine can be found in beverages, chocolate and even in some popular over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers.
Caffeine sources
-Chocolate milk, chocolate milkshakes, hot chocolate and chocolate drinks
-Cola and other sodas
-Chocolate or coffee liqueurs

How does caffeine help?
First, as it constricts cranial blood vessels, it can alleviate pain, especially in migraine headaches where there is vessel dilation. In addition, when caffeine is taken at the time of another medication, for example when used with an anti-inflammatory, it will enhance the absorption of that other medication.

When does caffeine hurt?
When someone regularly drinks caffeine, the body adjusts in essence fighting this effect. Then when caffeine isn't consumed the result is that blood vessels dilate too much, which causes a headache. It takes a little while for the body to readjust to not having caffeine and that is why caffeine withdrawal headaches can persist for a week or more. A person doesn't have to be a very heavy caffeine user to experience a caffeine withdrawal headache. It varies from person to person but even as little as a small cup of coffee (100 mg of caffeine) each day could lead to withdrawal if someone stops caffeine abruptly.

To drink or not to drink it
Be aware of how caffeine affects you, and pay attention to how much of it you drink and eat. If you get migraines, or if you find yourself having headaches frequently, you may want to try to cut down on caffeine or avoid it completely. It's best to do that gradually. For example, if you normally have 2 cups of coffee in the morning, start by cutting back to one. If you quit suddenly, it can take up to a week to get past the withdrawal symptoms. You can also try coffee alternatives.

Tips to cure a Headache-
Keep track of your headaches, what causes them and what seems to help. Get good sleep, and drink plenty of water. A nutritious diet and daily exercise can also help. Try to manage stress. You might be able to beat a headache with relaxation techniques, meditation, or massage instead of using medicine or caffeine. Depression, anxiety and stress are also responsible for headaches.