Caffeine's Effect on Migraines

Caffeine has long been used by those suffering from intense migraine pain as a source of relief. But for many, caffeine can also cause unwelcome and painful side effects.

Caffeine is a popular component of many prescription and over-the-counter migraine/headache medication, such as Excedrin, Bayer and Fiorinal. It is believed to increase the effectiveness of the pain-relieving medication by 40%. Though caffeine appears to be a great help to migraine sufferers, it also has the downside of potentially causing withdrawal symptoms and/or rebound headaches following treatment.

How Does Caffeine Help Migraine Sufferers?

According to, caffeine has the ability to make the medication in which it is a part of, much more effective because it "helps the body absorb headache medications more quickly" resulting in faster relief. Most medical practitioners believe that if a patient takes a headache medication that has some percentage of caffeine, the patient will need less of the medication itself (because of the speed of relief), thus vastly eliminating any side effects from the primary medication. These side effects can include addiction, overdose or interactions with other medications a patient may subsequently be taking.

Caffeine doesn't need to be ingested solely through medicinal means. Many migraine sufferers have claimed relief or reduction in pain through drinking caffeinated beverages like soda, tea and coffee, or consuming highly caffeinated foods such as chocolate.

How Does Caffeine Harm Migraine Sufferers?

Unfortunately, many migraine sufferers experience bouts of intense pain on a frequent basis. These patients should be cautious, or avoid altogether, any caffeine-containing pain relievers because of the possibility of getting caffeine withdrawal.

Some common symptoms of caffeine-induced withdrawal include:
  • headache (oftentimes a rebound headache that can feel as severe as a migraine)
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • anxiety or depression
While many of these symptoms mimic the migraine's, it is important for sufferers to avoid taking a pain reliever that contains caffeine, to prevent a cycle of migraine and rebound headaches.

What is a Rebound Headache?

Many migraine sufferers who take pain medication often experience rebound headaches. These headaches typically occur a day or two after the initial migraine and can often affect a person on a daily basis. Rebound headaches are the direct result of taking too much, or otherwise misusing headache medication. Most doctors recommend taking these medications no more than twice a week to prevent rebound headaches.

To minimize any unpleasant effects resulting from caffeine-enhanced pain medications, it is important to consult a physician to determine the proper method of treatment, as each migraine sufferer has different needs. Some patients find that by using non-medicinal methods and keeping a headache diary they are able to control their headaches and better manage their pain.

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