Does caffeine cause your headache or help heal it? The answer is it can do either, depending on the situation. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, colas, energy drinks, chocolate and more.
Some people have headaches or migraines after consuming even a little caffeine, while others feel caffeine keeps headaches away.
How caffeine helps headaches
According to the National Headache Foundation, caffeine can make headache pain relievers like aspirin and acetaminophen up to 40 percent more effective. In fact, caffeine is an ingredient in Goody’s® Extra Strength Headache Powder and Goody’s® Headache Relief Shot® liquid pain reliever. With many headaches or migraines, the blood vessels in the brain expand and increase blood flow, which can cause throbbing pain. The reason caffeine helps is that it reduces inflammation by narrowing the blood vessels surrounding your brain, and it helps the body absorb aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen more quickly.
Caffeine is often recommended to relieve post-lumbar puncture (spinal tap) headaches and is especially effective to relieve or prevent hypnic headaches. Hypnic headaches are rare but occur mostly in elderly adults and come on usually right after they fall asleep. Doctors recommend that people who experience hypnic headaches drink a small serving of coffee before they go to sleep.
How caffeine triggers headaches
Caffeine-related headaches result from either consuming too much caffeine (and not enough water) or having less than your usual daily caffeine intake. If you’re not used to caffeine and suddenly consume some, you may feel a headache from the narrowing of arteries and possibly dehydration if you substituted coffee for more water intake.
If you usually have one or more cups of coffee a day or other caffeinated beverages or food and suddenly go without caffeine (or with much less) for a day or two, the resulting expansion of arteries around your brain may cause a headache. This is due to caffeine withdrawal. Your body may need time to adjust to not having caffeine—caffeine withdrawal headaches might occur for up to a week or more. It’s best to wean yourself off of caffeine, if needed, instead of stopping abruptly to try and avoid these painful withdrawal headaches.
The bright side is that caffeine can cure withdrawal headaches, so if you are trying to eliminate caffeine from your diet and experience headaches, try a small serving of caffeinated coffee or tea to see if your symptoms go away.
By paying attention to how your body and brain react to caffeine, you get to know your triggers and can more likely avoid having caffeine-related headaches.