Caffeine can be both a treatment and a trigger for migraine attacks.

While that may sound confusing at first, research around caffeine consumption and migraine show just how personal migraine triggers can be and why it’s important to understand what yours are.

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

People living with migraine typically deal with recurrent, pulsating headaches that can be severe.

These headaches can last anywhere from a few hours to almost 3 days and sometimes include symptoms like sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and vomiting.

While researchers are still trying to get to the bottom of why migraine attacks happen, they can be caused by a variety of known triggers, including:

Medications used to treat migraine also sometimes cause more attacks if they’re used more than 10 days out of the month.

A variety of drugs used to treat headaches, such as Excedrin, Anacin, and Midol, contain caffeine.

This is because caffeine may reduce the sensation of pain through its effects on adenosine receptors, which influence pain signaling in the brain.

While research around caffeine and migraine is still ongoing, it’s thought that since adenosine is involved in the physiological processes associated with migraine attacks, caffeine may be able to reduce some of the pain associated with them via its effect on adenosine receptors.

However, the amount of caffeine consumed and the frequency of consumption, have a lot to do with its beneficial effects.

While a little bit of caffeine may help ease a migraine episode, too much may have the opposite effect.

An example of this is the medication overuse headache, which is what can happen when you take more headache medication (many of which contain caffeine) than you should during the course of a month.

Another factor is caffeine withdrawal. While the occasional cup of coffee here and there is most likely fine (unless you’ve identified coffee as a personal migraine trigger), your brain will likely develop a dependency on it if you drink it regularly.

When that regularity isn’t maintained — maybe you take a day off from coffee or get into a situation where you can’t drink your usual amount — withdrawal symptoms can occur.

One of these withdrawal symptoms might be a headache, which can turn into a migraine attack.

Additionally, studies have shown that ingesting too much caffeine is a risk factor for chronic migraine, which is a headache that can last for multiple days every month.

When it comes to the mechanisms of how too much caffeine actually triggers migraine attacks, researchers think there are two main ways an overabundance can create negative physiological effects:

  1. Caffeine has an adverse effect on the body’s ability to absorb magnesium, which is a beneficial nutrient for chronic pain conditions like migraine.
  2. Coffee acts like a diuretic in high doses, which means it may lead to dehydration. Dehydration is a known migraine trigger.

So while a small amount of caffeine in headache medication or in your coffee cup may be tolerable, going above and beyond that small amount could possibly trigger an attack. This could be via caffeine withdrawal, magnesium malabsorption, or dehydration.

If you currently deal with migraine episodes and know that caffeine is a personal trigger, the answer is simple: Stay away from it whenever possible!

But if you aren’t sure, then the answer becomes a little more complicated.

Try to keep the amount of caffeine you consume as consistent as possible. Suddenly increasing your intake could trigger a headache, and suddenly stopping your intake may result in caffeine withdrawal, which may also induce a headache.

If you’re considering weaning yourself off from caffeine, do it slowly, over a course of a few weeks.

Migraine triggers and symptoms are personal, which means you’re your best advocate when it comes to avoiding the foods and situations that don’t work for you.