Using caffeine as a migraine treatment

(written the last week of May, 2016)
Something extraordinary happened on Thursday of this week.  I woke with a really bad migraine, complete with that sinus stuffiness and dizziness. I am scheduled to open my bookshop every Thursday morning, but I knew that, for the second day in a row, I’d be useless at work.  I texted the store manager, T., who had graciously offered to be on call should I be sick again. He agreed to switch shifts with me so that I’d work Friday instead—both of us were hoping I’d at least be better by then.

But something crazy happened. Within an hour, the migraine was gone…and I had taken no pills. I texted T. to say I’d be happy to switch back if he hadn’t already rearranged his schedule, but he and I decided to keep things as they were. Suddenly I had a whole, unscheduled day ahead—and I was migraine-free.

What had I done, you wonder?

Well, first of all, I got out of bed. This is easier to do on days when my head is stuffy and lying down isn’t as comfortable (on migraine days when my head isn’t totally congested and my neck doesn’t feel cramped, I’m apt to just stay in bed).

Then, when grinding the beans for Jim’s coffee, I decided to make a cup for myself.  (I say “Jim’s coffee” since I recently quit my small but significant daily caffeine—see my post about that here. “Maybe a cup of coffee will help make it a little better,” I thought, “And then I can take meds.”

Within 30 minutes of drinking the coffee, my migraine was 95% gone. I was elated. I couldn’t believe it. After taking triptans, I often feel so woozy and weird that I wonder if it’s the medication’s side effects or the migraine postdrome making me feel not quite right despite the pain having dissipated.

On Saturday morning, just two days later, the same thing happened. I woke up with a significant migraine after having really crappy sleep, and my head felt heavy and stuffy. I knew that one of my booksellers could step in for me to cover my morning shift if need be, but I really didn’t want to ask that of them on a Saturday morning. So I tried the coffee trick again.  I had a cup, and by 8:30, I was showered and 90% better and ready to tackle a day of work.

When I decided to cut out coffee again this spring, my intent was not to be rid of it entirely come hell or high water but to use it when I needed it most—when I really was exhausted or when I had a migraine.  So now I’m using it as a migraine treatment, and it’s working wonders. I don’t recall having such amazing results from caffeine as a migraine treatment since I was a teenager at a concert in the hot summer weather—during that migraine (which I didn’t know was a migraine—this was pre-diagnosis) I chugged a huge soda and my migraine disappeared.

Have any of you successfully used caffeine deliberately as a migraine treatment? Have you been able to avoid prescription medication by using caffeine instead? Share your story below. In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed that this trick keeps its magic and effectiveness for me as time goes on!

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

Comments

View Comments (31)
  • Jmswan765
    2 years ago

    Does anyone else have neck arthritis that seems to bring migrainesome on?

  • DonnaFA moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi, jmswan765. You’re not alone. Many of our members experience neck pain, and you can find a wealth of information on neck pain related to migraine at the link.

    To answer your question directly, I’ve had migraine since childhood and developed arthritis related to degenerative disc disease in my late 20s. When I have a flare-up of neck pain, a migraine usually follows. And when I have a migraine, if I can get my neck into a position where it feels completely supported, the bright, sharp throbbing seems to dull down a little (as long as the room is cool and pitch black).

    Thanks for being part of the community, we’re glad you’re here! – All Best, Donna (Migraine.com team)

  • Jmswan765
    2 years ago

    Sorry I meant migraines on.

  • waiting
    2 years ago

    I’ve been suffering with widespread myofascial pain for about a year, along with a bunch of other seemingly immune dysfunctions.

    As well, with it has been one-sided headaches upon waking. I’ve tried all the OTCs with no relief. The ONLY thing that works is that first cup of coffee in the morning. Must be a strong blend though to completely eradicate it.

    I usually have a stiff/sore neck with it, and the coffee seems to loosen that up as well.

  • Mary Dickey
    2 years ago

    I have on occasion found that caffeine works on my migraines but with me it is only when the pain hasn’t developed to the point where the nausea sets in and sometimes I wake up in the morning and it’s like it’s on almost immediately, I feel the pain and then within mere seconds I’m so nauseated I have to be sick. And needless to say after that it’s a trip to urgent care…. but there have been times when coffee has worked. And it is great because I too have the wooziness and weirdness from the triptan… I take the Zomig nasal spray 5 mg and it does make me want to sleep so it’s not great for feeling normal so to speak. I take the nasal spray almost exclusively as I get nauseated so easily.

  • DonnaFA moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Mary! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, we’re happy you’re here!

    It’s great that coffee works for you sometimes. You may be interested in Managing Migraine Nausea which discusses some natural remedies for nausea. Don’t forget to check with your doctor regarding possible interaction with your prescriptions. -All Best, Donna (Migraine.com team)

  • gregbeachen
    2 years ago

    Just discovered that coffee could cure my migraines today. Within 20 minutes of drinking 2 strong cups of coffee I went from mind blowing pain to elation. Coffee definitely works and Ill be testing it tonight to see if it helps with sleep as I suspect my headaches could be Hipnic or Alarm clock. I always wake with them around 2am and they can stick with me for the whole day.

  • Jurie
    2 years ago

    Hi Greg !
    Glad you found out that Coffee helps a lot, I have this alarm clock jobs for at least 30 years with nothing that helps, about a year ago I found out by luck that strong coffee with your normal OTC med will do the job quite well. I have a small portable electronic muscle stimulator that I put on between the neck cranium below the scull and shoulder muscle above the shoulder bone or on both sides, my machine has 2 channels but rarely use both, one is good enough as it normally hits you on one side.It adds some muscle relaxation which is a good extra help.
    6 Months ago I learned ago about Triptan meds as well and carry “Maxalt wafers” with me now as a final hammer if all fails, One Maxalt reduces it by 80% in 1 hr and 2 hrs and its totally gone ! They are a bit expensive but worth their weight in gold, I see that the are some generics available for various Triptans on the market as well already in use, I’m going to try them as well,they are cheaper. They are all about the same and you pick the one that works with the least side effects for you but I had no side effects with Maxalt and will stay with it if it have to, I’m so grateful for it and it is the closest you can get to a miracle !
    All the best and would like to hear that you get relief !

  • Tess2
    2 years ago

    I find there is a fine line between caffeine and too much caffeine. If I have a cup or two of coffee or black tea, it will help…one sip more , the headache can potentially get worse. Also Excedrin has caffeine in it, so I might take 2 when I’m at work, to get me through the day.

  • janwilliams
    2 years ago

    Yes both myself and a friend use coffee or diet cola and this quiet often works however I use macular or immigran nasal spray. The migrane rule me

  • Jurie
    2 years ago

    Hi There ! Thanks for the interesting letter, I could have written it myself, a morning wake up without a headache is rare to me for 35 yrs now.In most cases OTC meds help a bit, but every two weeks or so it turns out the be that sore sinus, killer neck pain migraine and so unbearable that you cannot stay down and getting up is not much better.
    Being a South African working for Texas A@M for 17yrs already, in South Africa I only learned about Maxalt(rezitriptan) for 4 months now, that is something close to a miracle.It works great but I save it for the real bad ones.I travel a lot and that makes it so much worse, I hate traveling and will barely go out of a Hotel to see the outside,I’ve visited most countries and Islands ten times over in the world without knowing how it looks outside.The quick change in climate aggravates it.
    Your Caffeine plan is definitely something that I found out by chance a couple of years ago and that together with OTC meds normally help a lot, so in the meantime I life with this migraine as I live with my shadow,I’m getting close to retirement and cannot wait to be done with traveling !
    All the best with your migraine ! Very little people know what is is like living with it !
    Regards !
    Jurie

  • Susybaker
    3 years ago

    BTW, I take preventive meds at night and am on botox treatments. I’ve had migraines since I was a child but I would get them once or twice a year. After 40 they went from monthly to daily. Botox has helped reduce the pain but I still feel the symptoms and still need to eliminate my triggers.

  • Susybaker
    3 years ago

    Caffeine is a trigger for me so I drink decaffeinated coffee and don’t eat any chocolates. I used to love chocolate until I noticed that it gave me migraines. First it started with one brand then it was all chocolates. Same thing with caffeine. Never mother ed me before but once I eliminated, I will get a migraine when I drink caffeinate coffee.

  • Brian Tucker
    3 years ago

    Caffeine definitely helps my migraines but I’m now locked into a MOH cycle while waiting on the geniuses at the VA pharmacy to realize that serotonin syndrome can’t be triggered by triptans 3 years after you stop taking SSRI’s (especially for someone who took both simultaneously without incident). I can manage 36 hours without caffeine before the migraine becomes so severe I cannot function at all. I might be able to sweat it out but I’m not desperate enough to try that until I have to. The one odd thing I’ve noticed is that if my migraine is really rolling when I finally get that cup of coffee or soda, within 5 min I become very sleepy. Reporting that to Dr’s gets some odd expressions.

  • Potato
    3 years ago

    So happy for you!

    Caffeine in tea has always helped me unless a powerful migraine is coming on, then I know it’s time to take a triptan and if that doesn’t work I know I took a pill too late or it’s ineffective.

  • Star71
    3 years ago

    I use caffeine and dark chocolate to help me ‘lessen’ the pain…
    It’s never quite gone, but it helps…
    I was on Topamax, but the insurance company messed up and I’ve been without it for over 4 months…
    My daily 4/5 migraine (with Topamax) is back up to a 7/8… And I CAN’T call into work…
    I have no vacation days, no sick time, being PT, I’m not that lucky…
    So I do what I can… :0/

  • sgirl
    3 years ago

    I also if I wake with a Migraine will try a cup of coffee first. If I am on a 2 day headache I try it with my abort meds and sometimes it does the trick. If these don’t work I know I am in for some long days and probably a trip to the urgent care for a shot.

  • Loujay
    3 years ago

    I can relate to this too. I’ve been a migraine sufferer all my life,(a hormonal comes with period type) but as I’m approaching the menopause they’re getting worse and my GP says I am also getting tension headaches with them. I’ve tried all sorts of things and lately my immigran (Sumatriptan) tablets hadn’t been working so well. So now when I get an attack I take an immigran tablet with a coffee and it seems to help it work and work faster. I also do find coke, not diet, has to be the full sugar one, also helps. With a really bad migraine once that I woke up with at 4am, I took immigran and two hours later I was still in really bad pain, so had a cup of coffee, and within 20 minutes it had subsided and I was able to sleep. And it doesn’t seem to have any knock-on effects to me after. So will always try it if other things are not working.

  • Brian Tucker
    3 years ago

    I’m willing to bet that the problem with Diet Coke is the aspartame used to sweeten it, it is one of the most common food additive triggers. Diet Pepsi eliminated aspartame but they may not have continued that policy. Diet Rite is the only national diet soda that never uses aspartame that I know of but it never contains caffeine either so that doesn’t help. Best advice: only buy diet soda when your migraine is weak enough to allow reading fine print on the sealed container.

  • Linda P.
    3 years ago

    I can totally relate to what you said. For the past couple of months, I’ve been drinking caffeine in the morning (crystal light w/caffeine) and it totally helps. One pack has 60 mg. of caffeine. So it’s actually less caffeine than coffee, but does the trick for me. In fact, most days I can get away with drinking just 1/2 (30 mg. of caffeine). Anything to help me get out of bed and going gets my head feeling much better. It is amazing how well it works. I can get dizzy though if I drink the whole thing. So I do stick to 1/2. My specialist said it’s totally fine to drink it; just don’t have more caffeine later in the day or it will cause a headache to come on. I learned that he’s right! So just first thing in the morning, and I won’t have a terrible headache. I will have other symptoms of migraine, but I won’t have the terrible head pain. So that’s a win in my book!

  • kchavez
    3 years ago

    Yes! I didn’t realize that my morning tea was keeping my migraines at bay until I stopped drinking it because it was summer and I was feeling like hot tea, but the tea I drink is called Pu-erh and has a very high caffeine content. After a week of no tea I had 10 days of migraines, I thought my head was going to explode, nothing would help, then for some reason I decided to have my tea and my migraines went away. I still have migraines but the tea definitely keeps them from getting out of hand!

  • Jack
    3 years ago

    Yes, is the short answer, I have definitely used coffee as a migraine treatment. Unfortunately it is not sustainable as it’s also on my trigger list. I find it acts like a powerful painkiller, only better because it clears my head too. However, it quickly has a rebound migraine effect and in a day or two I fall into a cycle of having a migraine every single day, then after a while the coffee stops working as do all other drugs and I have to sit out the full detox migraine which often last for 4 days non-stop intense mind-blowing pain. My advice is – don’t go near it. Sorry.

  • Macbeck
    3 years ago

    I use Pepsi on a daily basis (please, no lectures on soda) for my caffeine intake, and yes it helps to combat the migraines. I’ not a fan of coffee as it generally tastes too bitter and therefore lots of sugar is needed, so no real benefit over the Pepsi.

  • Brian Tucker
    3 years ago

    If you decide to try coffee again try a dark roast brewed in a French press (limit brew time to <3 min) and dilute with water to taste. I generally require 2 packets of sugar, or stevia, with average coffee but normally use about 1/2 pack of stevia with French pressed coffee since it is much less bitter. Hope this helps.

  • Shelly
    3 years ago

    Every morning I brew my own 1/2 decaf,1/2 regular and drink that daily black. When I feel a migraine coming on sometimes in the early to late afternoon I will have a small to medium size of black all caffeine coffe and it will usually nip the migraine in the bud. I sometimes worry about the caffiene affecting my sleep that late in the day but it is worth getting rid of the migraine and it usually doesn’t affect my sleep.

  • famattjr
    3 years ago

    I’ve been using Excedrin for years for headaches of all types (Extra Strength & Migraine formulations are the same and many house brands available). Along with 25 mg of Sumatriptan, sometimes 50. But I realized, helped by my primary Dr, that the Imitrex/Sumatriptan constricts blood vessels and caffeine has been found to dilate cranial blood vessels.So in that sense they are working against each other. But the combo has been very effective. I really think I have gotten beyond Migraine into daily headaches, caused maybe by medication overuse. They have gotten worse in recent years due to my neck problems-many of them are cervicogenic. But when you wake up every single day w/either a terrible or just “bad” headache, it’s hard to avoid taking something that worked yesterday (along with blue cooler ice packs applied to the head-very effective for me). So now I am really trying to take one med or the other. I do have one cup of coffee in the morning, one only.

  • Joanna Bodner moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi famattjr,
    I am sorry to read what a tough cycle you seem to be in. Avoiding MOH in your particular situation can certainly be very tricky. I thought you might find this article helpful which discusses how not to overuse your medication: https://migraine.com/blog/help-how-can-i-not-overuse-migraine-medications/. I especially thought that you might find the comments at the conclusion informative.

    Thanks for joining in on the conversation and sharing what you are experiencing. -Joanna (Migraine.com Team)

  • wendy
    3 years ago

    When my migraines were episodic (in college), I used to keep caffeine pills with me to add to my prescription strength Motrin, in the middle of class. If between classes I used to get a large coffee (I rarely drank coffee then, but did drink Diet Coke), and that helped. I’m now chronic, the OTC meds (any strength) don’t work,my stomach can’t do caffeine pills anymore but sometimes upping he caffeine can help some. My pain med I take (triptans and abortives don’t work for me), has caffeine and works better than the version without.

  • Anna
    3 years ago

    I don’t use coffee instead of medication but I always have a cup or two when I have a migraine coming on… I feel it definitely helps. I don’t know why – maybe it opens up the blood vessels in the head but I recommend to all migraine sufferers to give it a go!

  • Staceyranderson
    3 years ago

    When I have any inkling that a headache or migraine may be starting to brew, I trot right out to the nearest convenience store & purchase a fountain drink. Some places even offer “mix ins” such as flavoring or shots of extra caffeine, etc. On numerous occasions just a caffeinated drink has been enough to stop the process in its tracks. Of course,it isn’t fail safe, but I always try this first. I’m always very thankful when a soda or a coffee drink is enough to make things better w/o having to take triptans & other meds.

  • Xera
    3 years ago

    Yes, I always start out with the best intentions as I start adding it back in. Just when I need it, I say. Just when I’m tired, or have a headache. Pretty quickly I find myself stuck daily chugging my extra-extra large (32oz) cup of drip coffee mixed with milk, followed by a warm up right before lunch. I can’t have it after 1PM, or I can’t sleep at night… but… Yeah… Miss a day, and it’s blinding headaches for the day. Turns out I’m always tired, and I have headaches all the time. So… That’s not a good idea. Also, it becomes self-perpetuating after a bad couple of days. And yet, now I’m toying with the idea of… I can have it once a week… only once a week. I keep letting this camel’s nose into my tent, because it does blessedly work, as long as I detox periodically. And the side effects are just about as bearable as the other meds they foist on me.

  • Poll