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Caffeine Headaches

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last review date: November 2010

Caffeine can be used to treat some headaches, however if overused, in certain cases caffeine may actually lead to headaches or increase their frequency.

About caffeine

Caffeine is found naturally in foods and considered a drug, which may cause addiction. Caffeine acts quickly, many people feel the effects of it in a half hour. Caffeine is a stimulant and is used very often throughout the world. In North America, more than 80% of adults use caffeine regularly, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Caffeine is most often consumed in coffee and tea, while young people tend to drink sodas, soft drinks containing caffeine.

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How caffeine can cause headaches

Many migraine medicines contain caffeine, which increases effectiveness of the drugs. When caffeine is used over a long time period, the body can become dependent on it. The brain expects an additional dose of caffeine and when the caffeine is stopped, the body often has withdrawal.

Caffeine is believed to interfere with the way the brain operates and with the size of blood vessels in the brain. Taking the caffeine away is thought to increase the brain’s blood flow.

Symptoms of caffeine withdrawal include:

Caffeine can also be a migraine trigger for some people, meaning it can launch a migraine attack when consumed. Some studies have shown there may be fewer migraine attacks when migraine sufferers cut out caffeine.