This is one of the most common questions people ask me. In general, caffeine helps the average person with headaches and occasional migraines. They may enjoy a rich cup coffee each morning to get things going as well as an afternoon pick-me-up. And, some people love to relax after a nice dinner and sip an espresso, cappuccino or cup of decaf. They may notice that their occasional tension headache or even migraine vanishes after enjoying a strong cup of coffee.
Caffeine acts to constrict blood vessels and a speed everything up. It is thought that the pain is relieved because of those 2 actions. Also, caffeine possibly helps by blunting the effect of a naturally occurring substance in the brain, adenosine, which is present in higher amounts during a migraine.
Caffeine speeds or enhances the effect of other medications taken with it. This is why one of the most popular over-the-counter medications uses a combination of aspirin and acetaminophen with caffeine to relieve the person suffering from a headache or migraine.
But, as you know, those of us with frequent migraines and chronic migraines don’t fit the description of “the average person.” For whatever reason, we’re more sensitive to things in our environment. For some, they may be caffeine-sensitive and foods/drinks with caffeine cause overall irritation and possibly trigger migraines and/or inflammation. For others, they may find caffeine helpful. And, there is a third group of people who are helped by caffeine to a certain point and then, when that level is exceeded, a migraine results. Which type are you?
So, what to do? If headaches and migraines are infrequent and you are a regular coffee drinker, carry on. Just take notice if you get more headachy when you drink more caffeinated coffee. If you have frequent or chronic migraines, you may have “medication overuse headache” from the caffeine. Yes, the caffeine that used to help your pain may have turned on you. Caffeine is like other medications for migraine that are helpful with infrequent use. Gradually reducing your daily intake and avoiding caffeine may help lessen the number of attacks. Then, you will have a very nice upside – an additional, natural and readily available abortive therapy to use when you have your next migraine. Experts suggest not using coffee/caffeine to relieve headache more than twice per week.
For more information: http://www.achenet.org/resources/caffeine_and_migraine/