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Does Caffeine Trigger or Treat Migraines?

Overview

Key points

  1. Caffeine is found in some migraine medications, but regular use of caffeine may trigger rebound headaches.
  2. If you have migraines, it’s a good idea to limit your caffeine consumption. That may help reduce the intensity of future migraines.
  3. Talk to your doctor before using caffeine as a migraine treatment.

Caffeine can be both a treatment and a trigger for migraines. Knowing if you benefit from it may be helpful in treating the condition. Knowing if you should avoid or limit it can also help.

Read on to learn more about the connection between caffeine and migraines.

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Causes

What causes migraines?

Migraines can be caused by a variety of triggers. These include everything from:

  • fasting or skipping a meal
  • alcohol
  • stress
  • strong smells
  • bright lights
  • humidity
  • hormone level changes

Medications can also cause migraines, and foods can combine with other triggers to bring on a migraine.

Did you know?

A variety of medicines used to treat migraines contain caffeine. So you may be consuming it even if you aren’t a regular coffee or tea drinker.

Caffeine pros

How can caffeine ease migraines?

Blood vessels enlarge prior to experiencing a migraine. Caffeine includes vasoconstrictive properties that can restrict blood flow. This means that ingesting caffeine can decrease the pain caused by a migraine.

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Caffeine cons

How can caffeine make migraines worse?

You shouldn’t rely on caffeine to treat migraines for a variety of reasons, one being that it can make migraines worse.

You can also become dependent on it, which means you’ll need more to get the same results. Increasing caffeine levels excessively can harm your body in other ways, causing tremors, nervousness, and sleep interruptions. Caffeine use disorder was recently identified as a significant problem for some people.

A 2016 study of 108 people found that people who experience migraines reduced the intensity of their headaches after discontinuing the use of caffeine.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a cup of coffee or tea when you feel a migraine coming on. Caffeine doesn’t cause headaches, but it can trigger what’s known as caffeine rebound.

This occurs when you consume too much caffeine and subsequently experience withdrawal from it. The side effects can be severe, sometimes worse than a typical headache or migraine itself. An estimated 2 percent of people experience this.

There isn’t a set amount of caffeine that can cause rebound headaches. Each person reacts differently to caffeine. So you may be able to drink a daily cup of coffee and be fine, whereas someone else could get rebound headaches from having one cup of coffee a week.

Caffeine isn’t the only trigger, either. Triptan drugs, such as sumatriptan (Imitrex) and other medications, can cause rebound headaches if you regularly use them. Using narcotics on a long-term basis can also called rebound headaches.

Read more: Can the overuse of medication cause chronic migraines? »

Caffeine and medicine

Should you combine caffeine and migraine medications?

If you choose to use caffeine to treat migraines, are you better off combining it with other medications or solely using caffeine? Adding caffeine to acetaminophen (Tylenol) or aspirin (Bufferin) can boost migraine pain relief by about 40 percent. When combined with acetaminophen and aspirin, caffeine has been shown to be more effective and faster-acting than taking ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) alone.

Another study showed that caffeine works better in conjunction with medication for migraine relief, but it should be about 100 milligrams (mg) or greater to deliver a small but effective increase.

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Is it safe?

Should you treat migraines with caffeine?

Talk to your doctor about your caffeine intake and whether you should avoid caffeine. Be mindful that caffeine is found not only in coffee and tea, but also in:

  • chocolate
  • energy drinks
  • soft drinks
  • some medications

As part of a 2016 study, Vincent Martin, co-director of the Headache and Facial Pain Center at UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute, said that people with a history of migraines should limit caffeine intake to no more than 400 mg daily.

Some people shouldn’t consume caffeine, and therefore it can’t be part of their treatment plan. That includes women who are pregnant, may become pregnant, or are breastfeeding.

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Outlook

Outlook

The American Migraine Association warns against treating headaches and migraines solely with caffeine. Treating them with caffeine shouldn’t be done more than two days per week. Even though caffeine may aid in the absorption of migraine medications, it’s still not a tried-and-true treatment.

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