Migraine-Does Caffeine Treat Or Trigger It?

Caffeine is a stimulant that can improve concentration and alertness. However, it may also increase the risk of migraine headaches.

What is Caffeine? 

Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world and has been used for centuries. Caffeine is naturally found in over 60 plants, including coffee beans, tea leaves, and cocoa beans. Most people consume caffeine through coffee and tea, which can also be found in soft drinks and energy drinks. 

The amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee varies from serving to serving, so it’s essential to pay attention when drinking caffeinated beverages. A standard 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee contains about 100 mg of caffeine; however, a 16-ounce serving may contain up to 400 mg of caffeine! 

Caffeine produces effects similar to amphetamines: alertness, reduced fatigue, and increased concentration. It can also cause headaches when consumed in large doses or during pregnancy. 

Most people don’t experience any side effects from consuming small amounts of caffeine daily; however, higher doses can lead to insomnia and anxiety attacks that can last up to 48 hours after consumption stops. 

How Does Caffeine Work? 

Caffeine is a drug that stimulates the central nervous system or CNS. It does so by blocking the activity of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that slows down brain activity. Caffeine blocking adenosine speeds up the brain’s processes and increases alertness and focus. In addition to its stimulant properties, caffeine has a diuretic effect that causes you to urinate more frequently than usual. 

How Harmful is Caffeine? 

The effects of caffeine depend on how much you consume, how quickly you drink it, and how long you’ve been consuming it. Caffeine can improve alertness and memory at low doses (less than 300 mg per day).  

The average cup of coffee contains 100-200 mg of caffeine, while an energy drink can have anywhere from 80-300 mg.  

Higher doses (more than 400 mg per day) can cause headaches and anxiety, and panic attacks. Caffeine also interferes with sleep patterns by keeping people awake at night when they should be sleeping.  

Long-term use (more than four years) can lead to dependence on caffeine and withdrawal symptoms when usage stops—including nausea, irritability, fatigue, headaches, depression, and flu-like symptoms like muscle aches or cramps. 

Why Does Caffeine Give Me a Migraine or Headache? 

Migraines are vascular headaches that cause intense throbbing pain on one side of the head and sensitivity to light, sound, and smell. 

They frequently occur with nausea and vomiting as well. Migraines are often accompanied by an aura (visual disturbance), which can include flashing lights, shimmering lines, or blind spots that appear before the onset of pain.  

The most effective treatments for migraines include medication and behavioral therapy. However, some people have found relief from their migraines by simply eliminating specific triggers from their diet.  

Caffeine is one of these triggers; it has been shown to increase the risk of migraine by as much as three times in some individuals with a genetic predisposition towards migraines.  

When caffeine is consumed, it reaches the brain within minutes and begins stimulating receptors sensitive to adenosine. This causes an increase in dopamine production and releases by neurons.  

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that affects motor function, mood, pleasure, and motivation. It also increases heart rate and blood pressure by raising epinephrine levels (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) levels. The increase in these two hormones can lead to headaches after consuming caffeine. 

Can Caffeine Help a Migraine? 

Caffeine is effective in helping the symptoms of migraine headaches. Still, it is essential to note that it can also cause a headache or worsen one. It can help a migraine in several ways.  

The first way is by blocking adenosine, a substance that causes drowsiness. The second way is by causing your brain to release dopamine, which provides relief from pain.  

The third way is by affecting serotonin levels in the brain, which can help prevent headaches from occurring in the first place. 

What Does a Caffeine Migraine Feel Like? 

A caffeine migraine is a type of migraine caused by consuming too much caffeine. Caffeine migraines are prevalent and can come on suddenly or gradually over time.  

They’re often mistaken for other types of migraines or headaches because they can be milder than different types of migraines.  

If you think you might be experiencing a caffeine migraine, here are some things to look for: 

  • A throbbing or pulsing pain on one side of your head that gets worse with movement 
  • Nausea, vomiting and feeling sick to your stomach 
  • Blurred vision 
  • Increased sensitivity to light and sound 

Should You Avoid Caffeine with a Migraine? 

Caffeine can trigger a migraine in someone sensitive to it. Caffeine is one of the most common triggers for migraines, along with stress and skipping meals.  

The effect caffeine has on your body depends on how much you consume and how often you drink it. Generally speaking, if your body isn’t accustomed to caffeine or you destroy it infrequently, it’s best to avoid it altogether during a migraine attack. 

However, suppose you’re used to consuming caffeine regularly and don’t experience migraines often. In that case, drinking coffee or tea might be okay when you’re having a migraine.  

It’s important to remember that everyone is different; what works for one person may not work for another! 

What are the Signs of Caffeine Sensitivity? 

Caffeine sensitivity can be challenging to diagnose because caffeine sensitivity symptoms are similar to those of other conditions. 

The most common symptoms include: 

  • Headaches 
  • Nausea 
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia) 
  • Irritability, anxiety, or depression 

Do You Become More Sensitive to Caffeine as You Age? 

According to some studies, the answer is yes. It’s been found that older people are more likely than younger people to develop symptoms of caffeine intolerance—including headache, fatigue, and jitteriness—after consuming just one cup of coffee.  

This does not mean you should avoid caffeine altogether as you age! Caffeine has been shown to improve memory and help with alertness in older adults. It can also improve your mood and provide some protection against dementia.  

But it’s essential to keep in mind that caffeine may activate your central nervous system more than it used to, leading to increased sensitivity over time. 

The bottom line is that caffeine and migraine are often a tricky combination. Still, it’s essential to know what you’re getting into before consuming any caffeinated products. If you have a migraine, you may be able to benefit from the temporary energy boost provided by caffeine. But if you don’t, it could make your headache worse. Hence, It’s important to know what level of caffeine consumption is right for you.  

If you suffer from migraines and have been unable to find relief, we have the solution for you. Our expert neurologists and headache specialists have years of experience treating migraines here to help you get back on track with your life and enjoy your time away from the pain of migraines. 


Our Expert Neurologist


Dr. Atta Ghassan Al Khaznaji

Head of Neurology Department | Specialist Neurology

Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi


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