Caffeine and Migraines: Here’s What You Need to Know

Sometimes when people have a headache that’s bothering them, they’ll call it a migraine. But any migraine sufferer knows there’s a world of difference between some pain in your head and excessive pain accompanied by nausea, light/sound sensitivity, and aura of a migraine.

If you’ve had a migraine once, I know you don’t want to have another.

“Drink a cup of coffee.” If you’ve ever asked anyone for migraine help suggestions, you’ve probably heard that one pop up a time or two. Then again, someone else may have told you to avoid caffeine entirely. So what gives?

Throughout this article, I’m going to explore the ways caffeine can help and hurt a migraine.

Does Caffeine Help Migraines?

It’s pretty well accepted that a little bit of caffeine will help a migraine – at least for the moment. Here’s how:

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  • One reason caffeine may come to the rescue is adenosine. This is a substance found in your brain that triggers and negatively affect migraines. Caffeine can block the receptors that accept adenosine and help the pain.
  • When you get a migraine, your blood vessels get bigger. Caffeine constricts them, which relieves pain.
  • Caffeine also acts as an anti-inflammatory, so it can lower pain in that way as well.

All of this is why popular over-the-counter migraine medications – like Excedrin – often come with caffeine as an active ingredient. (Also – caffeine can also help other ingredients work better, so it ups the effectiveness of the pain reliever).

Does Caffeine Hurt Migraines?

While an occasional cup of coffee may do wonders for relieving the pain of your headache or a migraine, regular caffeine consumption could backfire.

Keep in mind that caffeine is a drug, so it’s going to have similar side effects that drugs do – like tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal.

When a migraine sufferer becomes tolerant to caffeine, one strong cup may not do the trick anymore. They may need 2, 3, or 4 cups to feel any sort of effect.

When a migraine sufferer becomes dependent upon caffeine, the brain and body expect that caffeine to come. If it doesn’t, withdrawal symptoms kick in. Guess what one of the most common caffeine withdrawal symptoms is…. headaches! Without your daily caffeine, too much blood ends up coming to your brain and you’re left with painful throbs.

Many migraine sufferers will tell you about “rebound” headaches they get after using caffeine. What feels great and helpful at first will sometimes come back around to make an even worse headache.

To wrap up the negative side of caffeine for migraines, those with occasional migraines are more likely to develop chronic daily headaches when they are regular caffeine consumers.

Keep Reading: Caffeine and Migraines: What Researchers Have to Say 

Should You Use Caffeine for Your Migraine?

The answer to that question is extremely individualized since everybody’s bodies respond differently to caffeine and everybody’s migraines are different, but here are a few things you can consider:

  • If you are drinking a lot of coffee every single day, you may want to start a slow cutdown process in case all that caffeine is causing rebound headaches. Go very slowly, so you don’t get a withdrawal migraine.
  • Keep a journal of your migraines. Have one cup of coffee and then pay attention to your symptoms. Do you feel better, same, or worse? How do you feel in a couple hours? How do you feel the next day?
  • Consider controlled caffeine. Instead of drinking coffee which can vary in caffeine amounts as you’ll see below (and can add up quickly before you realize it!), see if taking a caffeine supplement helps take care of your migraine in a controlled way.
  • Know that most migraine sufferers can have about 200 mg of caffeine per day and feel fine.

You may find that caffeine consumption is a helpful little trick for dealing with the pain of a migraine. You may find that it makes everything work. The key is experimenting with it and paying very close attention.

Bonus: Download This 7-Day Headache Reset that will show you how to tackle your worst migraine symptoms quickly.

How Much Caffeine Are You Consuming?

In order for you to know how much caffeine helps your head and how much hurts your head, it’s important to know how much you are consuming. Here are some general averages for the most common caffeine-containing foods and drinks:

  • 5-Hour Energy (2 oz.) = 200 mg of caffeine
  • Starbucks Iced Coffee (Grande) = 190 mg of caffeine
  • Monster Energy (16 oz.) = 160 mg of caffeine
  • Honest Tea Organic Lemon Tea (17 oz.)  = 90 mg of caffeine
  • Red Bull (8 oz.) = 80 mg of caffeine
  • Diet Coke (20 oz.) = 76 mg of caffeine
  • Dr. Pepper (20 oz.) = 68 mg of caffeine
  • Folgers Ground Coffee, House (12 oz.) = 60 to 80 mg of caffeine
  • Brewed Green Tea (8 oz.) = 47 mg of caffeine
  • Dannon Coffee Yogurt (1 container) = 30 mg of caffeine
  • Haagen-Dazs Coffee Ice Cream (4 oz.) = 30 mg of caffeine
  • Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar (1.6 oz.) = 9 mg of caffeine

Here are two samples of common headache/migraine medications:

  • Excedrin Migraine (2 tablets) = 130 mg of caffeine
  • Bayer Back and Body (2 tablets) = 65 mg of caffeine

Your Best Migraine Solution

Whether or not caffeine turns out to be a big help or a big harm to your migraines, it’s never going to be the ultimate solution. For the people it helps, it’s only an occasional tool to settle some of the pain. Be sure to look for longer-term solutions like testing for related health problems, getting into a stress management program, and discussing preventative medication.

Read Next: 9 Migraine Blogs Share Their Best Tips on Migraines and Diet