Home > Medication > Is Caffeine a Cause or Treatment?

Is Caffeine a Cause or Treatment?

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 12 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Headaches Migraines Caffeine Coffee

For those who suffer from headaches, especially frequent ones, it is important to understand just how caffeine can impact their headache frequency and intensity. There is a great deal of debate among experts about the benefits and negative effects of caffeine and this can be confusing to headache sufferers.

How Does Caffeine Affect Your Body?

Caffeine has a range of effects on the body, one of which is the narrowing of blood vessels, which then restricts blood flow. Since blood vessels are thought to expand at the onset of headaches, it is thought that caffeine's vasoconstrictive property eases the pain of headaches and migraines. Caffeine is also believed to increase the effectiveness of many pain relievers, and is therefore added to various headache medications. It would then be logical to suggest that less pain reliever would be required to obtain the intended benefits of the medication. Since some medications can cause gastrointestinal distress, a lower dose that is still effective would be particularly beneficial, and more so for chronic headache sufferers who require long-term medication use. Studies have suggested that over-the-counter medications may be as much as forty percent more effective when caffeine is added. Generally, most individuals will find that they feel the effects of caffeine approximately half an hour after ingestion and these last for anywhere from three to five hours.

Caffeine can, however, also cause some unpleasant feelings such as restlessness, headaches, dizziness, shaking and insomnia. In addition, caffeine stimulates the heart and raises metabolic rate. It is at higher doses that the unpleasant effects of caffeine are more likely to occur.

Caffeine Withdrawal

Withdrawal is commonly confused with addiction; it is rare for anyone to become addicted to caffeine, which involves a compulsive craving for the drug. Withdrawal, however, can occur from caffeine use and this involves physical symptoms that occur when caffeine use is halted or decreased. Generally, moderate consumption of caffeine is safe but since caffeine does slightly stimulate the nervous system, withdrawal effects can occur. Some of these include:
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Non-specific muscle aches and pains
There is disagreement among experts regarding the exact amount of caffeine required to induce withdrawal symptoms. Your own personal tolerance can vary in comparison with someone else and age can also play a role, as metabolism of drugs changes as we age. The average person can expect withdrawal symptoms to occur after consuming approximately 500mg of caffeine per day, which is equivalent to about five cups of coffee. Others may, however, still experience withdrawal from as little as 100mg of caffeine daily.

What is the Verdict?

Based on research to date, it would appear that mild to moderate doses of caffeine in medication are helpful in easing headache pain. If your medication doesn't contain caffeine, drinking coffee and consuming caffeine-containing foods or drinks in moderation shouldn't cause unpleasant symptoms or withdrawal effects. If you are pregnant or on any other medications, your caffeine intake should be monitored more closely; it is wise to speak with your doctor if you have any doubts about how much caffeine you may safely consume as well as how caffeine consumption will affect your headaches. The key to remember is that caffeine can be present in various foods such as chocolate, which is linked to migraines, so some caffeine rich foods may also have compounds that can exacerbate migraines. It's also important to monitor your daily intake of caffeine and to be aware of the differences in caffeine content between a cup of coffee brewed from one restaurant to another. Some 'coffee shops' will serve a cup of coffee that is double or triple the caffeine content of another one and you could be ingesting a lot more caffeine than you realise, resulting in headaches and uncomfortable shakes and stomach upset. So a cup or two of coffee can help your headache but if you overdo it, you may be setting yourself up for more headaches than you started with.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopfully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • Rambo
    Re: Scalp Pain: What Causes It?
    I have short sharp stabbing pain at top left of head in scalp....it come and goes randomly...sometimes but not always pulsating…
    27 May 2016
  • glemiles
    Re: Headaches and Iron Deficiency
    Your symptoms are also common with diabetes. Be careful!
    15 May 2016
  • Eve
    Re: Types of Headache: Facts and Figures
    I bit my head about a year ago and since then I have had persistent headaches in the back/bottom of my skull (where I…
    3 May 2016
  • HeadacheExpert
    Re: Headaches During The Night
    Esmer - Your Question:I've been waking up at the same time for a few days now around 3 with a massive headache even my eyes hurt when…
    28 April 2016
  • Esmer
    Re: Headaches During The Night
    I've been waking up at the same time for a few days now around 3 with a massive headache even my eyes hurt when I wake up. What's…
    27 April 2016
  • HeadacheExpert
    Re: Are Sleep Headaches Rare?
    Donna - Your Question:Had a motorbike accerdent a few weeks ago ended up with hairline fraction to my arm shoulder damage and having a…
    21 April 2016
  • robin83
    Re: Headaches After Head Injuries
    I was getting groceries out my car trunk and the trunk fell on my head and I have a big knot and have had a bad headache since..…
    20 April 2016
  • Donna
    Re: Are Sleep Headaches Rare?
    Had a motorbike accerdent a few weeks ago ended up with hairline fraction to my arm shoulder damage and having a MRI scan soon on mg…
    20 April 2016
  • HeadacheExpert
    Re: Headaches After Head Injuries
    Ladyt - Your Question:I was bumped by a car 5 days ago I fell and hit my head. I have a scratch and bruise. I had a hair clasp on…
    18 April 2016
  • Ladyt
    Re: Headaches After Head Injuries
    I was bumped by a car 5 days ago I fell and hit my head. I have a scratch and bruise. I had a hair clasp on it shattered causing…
    17 April 2016
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the HeadacheExpert website. Please read our Disclaimer.