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Why Does Caffeine Help Migraines?

by Mark Miller February 08, 2016

Why Does Caffeine Help Migraines?

Freshly roasted coffee beans in a cup of java may give just the healing boost a migraine sufferer may need. (Photo by BenFrantzDale/Wikimedia Commons)

Migraine headaches are so painful and disabling that people who get them are often unable to do little except lie in a quiet, dark room and suffer. So the fact that caffeine, which is in so many delicious products, can help relieve symptoms and boost effectiveness of medications may be of some comfort to them.

Caffeine comes in some favorite comestibles, including coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate and some ice cream brands. For those in a world of migraine hurt, a nice cup of hot coffee, a glass of cold tea, a chocolate bar or a bowl of ice cream may provide some pain relief and also some comfort just from the fact of consuming a favorite food or drink.

A major health problem

Migraine headaches are very common and are a major health problem across the planet. Just in the United States, there are about 38 million migraine patients, both adults and children, says the Migraine Research Foundation. That is about 1 in 4 households with people prone to migraines.

“Many people do not realize how serious and debilitating migraine can be,” the foundation writes. “In addition to attack-related disability, migraine interferes with a sufferer’s ability to function in everyday life, whether that is going to school or work, caring for family or enjoying social activities.”

And so far, all of the efforts of researchers, pharmacologists and doctors to combat this terrible illness have not come up with a cure. But there are some things that help, including caffeine.

Why does caffeine help migraines?

Why does caffeine help migraines? Along with boosting the efficacy of acetaminophen, aspirin and ibuprofen by up to 40 percent, caffeine is an anti-inflammatory in itself, which can also bring some relief.

Also, caffeine can speed relief to headache sufferers because pain relievers work faster when people take them together. In fact, some manufactures of over-the-counter pain medicines put caffeine in their products.

“Caffeine does seem to treat headaches [and migraines],” neurologist and Professor Mary Quiceno of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center told EverydayHealth.com. “There are lots of different reasons why caffeine is thought to help people.”

There is another, rare type of headache that some elderly people suffer with called hypnic headaches that wake them with intense pain in the middle of the night. Caffeine is especially helpful for people who suffer hypnic headaches, and doctors sometimes prescribe a cup of coffee when the headaches wake them up or even before they go to sleep.

Some precautions

People who consume caffeine daily should be aware that headaches, irritability or sleepiness can result if they don’t get their usual dose on time. Caffeine makes blood vessels around the brain become narrower. If people don’t get your coffee or other caffeine source on time, the blood vessels can expand and cause pain.

So migraine sufferers prone to caffeine withdrawal should be sure to consume the same amount of caffeine when they don’t have a headache as when they do. Some doctors advise migraine patients to cut back on caffeine intake gradually and eventually and stop taking it altogether.

Caffeine increases alertness and decreases fatigue. But when taking caffeine to help alleviate migraine headaches, beware that caffeine can also keep a person awake. If a person suffering from a migraine is near the end of the headache episode, he may not want to take caffeine because a restful sleep may be needed as soon as possible. Migraine headaches last anywhere from four to 72 hours.

Another thing to beware of is that relying on pain relievers too much can result in what is called medication rebound. After the aspirin or other pain medicine wears off, a headache with even more intense pain than usual can result. Combining pain relievers with caffeine can make medication rebound even more likely.

The labels of medications tell consumers how much of the drug should be taken per dose and per day, and these guidelines should not be exceeded, or medication rebound can result.

The National Headache Foundation advises that people who suffer with headaches take no more than 200 mg of caffeine per day. Those who suffer with frequent headaches, though, should not take caffeine daily.

Experts caution that before taking any medication or beginning a caffeine regimen, people who suffer from migraines should consult with their doctors and also tell physicians about any drugs or supplements they are taking

Migraine.com advises pregnant women not to take big doses of caffeine, even if they have migraine headache. At high doses, caffeine is thought to slow fetal growth and may even increase the chance of miscarriages.

In addition, caffeine can interact with medications, including antibiotics, bronchodilators and ephedra, which is banned in medication form but still available in some teas.

Amounts of products’ caffeine

The National Headache Foundation lists the amounts of caffeine in various drinks, foods and medications. Drip coffee contains about 106 to 164 mg of caffeine per 5 ounces (147 millileters), while percolated, instant and espresso coffee drinks contain less. Black tea has about 25 to 110 mg in 5 ounces, while oolong and green tea have much less.

Various forms of chocolate, including cocoa, milk chocolate and baking chocolate, have 2 to 35 mg per ounce.

Colas, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper and Mister Pibb contain 36 to 57 mg per 12 ounces (354 ml). Sports and energy drink can contain high amounts of caffeine. For example, FIXX has 500 mg per 16 ounces (473 ml), and the No Name brand has 280 mg per 8.4 ounces (248 ml).

The Migraine Research Foundation says migraines are not just bad headaches, but rather they are “an extremely debilitating collection of neurological symptoms.” Migraines cause intense throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head and often also result in visual disturbances, vomiting, dizziness and extreme sensitivity to smell, touch sound and light.

Taking all of these factors into consideration will help migraine sufferers decide if caffeine is right for them.

 

Sources:

http://www.headaches.org/2009/07/24/does-caffeine-trigger-or-treat-headaches/

http://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/guide/triggers-caffeine

https://migraine.com/migraine-treatment/natural-remedies/caffeine/

http://www.migraineresearchfoundation.org/fact-sheet.html

 

Mark Miller
Mark Miller


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