Caffeine: Trigger or Treatment?

This is one article in a series the migraine contributors are working on called “Trigger or Treatment.” Migraine disease is a complicated illness, and one of the reasons is that we all react to things differently. It is easy to think of several items in conflict in migraine research or what we're told by various doctors, and the one I'm going to take on today is caffeine.

The coffee cycle

Some of the most severe headaches experienced by non-migraine or headache disorder sufferers are caffeine-withdrawal headaches. Someone who drinks several cups of coffee daily and runs out before they're able to make it to the store might wonder why they are suffering so much only to find it quickly relieved once a cup or two is procured.

However, caffeine is included in migraine combination medications, including Excedrin and Fioricet, and many of us have found that sodas with caffeine, or coffee, might help if used early in an oncoming migraine. I myself can't live without my Cherry Coke, and I take Excedrin “Tension Headache” formula which has caffeine and acetaminophen, and I usually find it helpful.

From the National Headache Foundation: "Caffeine can be a headache trigger or headache inhibitor. Before a headache or migraine, blood vessels tend to enlarge. Because it contains “vasoconstrictive” properties that cause the blood vessels to narrow and restrict blood flow, caffeine can aid in head pain relief. When caffeine is added to the combination of acetaminophen and aspirin, the pain relieving effect is increased by 40%."1

Caffeine products

The average American consumes 200-300 mg of caffeine per day. Here is a list of some common caffeine-containing products and the mg of caffeine contained:

Drip coffee (5 oz) – 106-164 mg

Instant coffee – 47-68 mg

Decaffeinated coffee – still contains 2-5 mg

One shot of espresso (single latte, cappuccino) – 30-50mg

Loose black tea (5 oz) – 25 – 110 mg

Loose Green tea - 8-36 mg

Black tea bag, 1 minute – 20-80 mg (the longer brewed, the more caffeine)

Iced tea (12 oz) – 67-76 mg

Hot chocolate (6 oz) – 2-8 mg

Mountain Dew (12 oz) – 54 mg

Coca-Cola (all varieties) – 46 mg

Dr. Pepper – 41 mg

Pepsi – 38 mg

Diet Pepsi – 36 mg

Monster Energy (16 oz) – 160 mg

Red Bull (8.3 oz) – 76 mg

Hershey's chocolate bar – 9 mg

Hershey's Special Dark – 18 mg

NoDoz maximum strength – 200 mg

Excedrin Migraine or Extra Strength (2 tabs) – 130 mg

Understanding rebound related symptoms

While caffeine is not directly responsible for migraines, sudden withdrawal of it can cause a rebound effect, with which most of us are familiar. The NHF recommends those with frequent headaches (their wording) avoid daily use. For myself, I would avoid having multiple lattes or cups of coffee per day, but I seem to do fine with my usual intake of two 12 oz Cherry Cokes. So like everything, moderation is probably the best bet. If you have any questions about whether caffeine is hurting you, or could help you, ask your physician.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

or create an account to comment.

Community Poll

When was your last migraine check-up?