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Caffeine and Headache: Caffeine Withdrawl Headache

Caffeine and headache do not necessarily go together. Lots of times my patients will say to me "But if I have some caffeine, my headache goes away. Why is that?" That is usally the start of caffeine headache syndrome.

There are two parts to this answer.

First of all, a small amount of caffeine may help stop an acute headache. This is why all the Excedrin products contain 60mg of caffeine.

Secondly, caffeine is a vasoconstrictor. When you are having a migraine, the end result of the pathology of migraine is vasodilation of arteries around the meninges. Caffeine serves to bring these arteries back down to normal size and helps stop the pain.

The danger arises in using this to stop headaches several times a week OR if you have chronic headaches, drinking lots of caffeine daily is not good for your headaches.

  • Effect of Caffeine on Headaches

caffeine and headaches

When it comes to caffeine and headache, chronic use of caffeine can over time, irritates nerve tissue. Now if you do not have chronic headaches, well then several cups of coffee a day may do no more than keep you awake at night.

But, If you have chronic headaches, more than 1-2 cups of coffee a day will irritate nerve endings and over time your headaches begin to increase in frequency.

So you have more coffee thinking this will treat the headache.

And you get more headaches...sort of goes around and around doesn't it? (Caffeine and headache..caffeine and headache.)

Abruptly stopping your caffeine will cause a caffeine withdrawl headache that may last a few days and precipitate a migraine, so cut back slowly. Many people will combine decaf with caffinated to cut down on the intake.

Researchers at Johns Hopkings are now calling Caffeine Withdrawl Headache a disorder which means it has predictable symptoms:

"five clusters of common withdrawal symptoms: headache; fatigue or drowsiness; dysphoric mood including depression and irritability; difficulty concentrating; and flu-like symptoms of nausea, vomiting and muscle pain or stiffness. In experimental studies, 50 percent of people experienced headache and 13 percent had clinically significant distress or functional impairment -- for example, severe headache and other symptoms incompatible with working. Typically, onset of symptoms occurred 12 to 24 hours after stopping caffeine."

Read more about Caffeine Withdrawl at Johns Hopkins.

Let's not forget that caffeine also increases adrenaline levels and again over time this increases your resting heart rate and raises blood pressure.

Then there is the whole issue of sleep. If you have headaches and drink caffeine this disrupts your sleep and can cause more headaches. It causes hyperexcitability states in the brain and doesn't allow you to get into a deep sleep. After a few nights of poor sleep, a headache results.

  • Caffeine and Headache: The Lowdown On Starbucks

Many people are unaware of just how much caffeine they consume on a regular basis. Many products contain caffeine, and as I mentioned all Excedrine products have 60 mg of caffeine per dose.

The table below lists some of the more popular brands, but the link provided is to a tool where you can add up your own daily caffeine intake. Each serving is the standard produced such as a 12 oz can. Coffee is based on an 8oz cup. You might be surprised at your own intake!!

Check out your caffeine intake here!

ProductTotal Caffeine in mg
Coffee brewed107.5
Coffee drip145.0
Crystal Light Energy120.0
Diet Pepsi36.0
Diet Pepsi Max69.0
Fuel Cell180.0
McDonald's Coffee109.0
Mountain Dew55.0
Red Bull80.0
SoBe Green Tea35.0
StarBucks Short Coffee180.0
StarBucks Tall Coffee260.0
StarBucks Grande Coffee330.0
Tea, Brewed47.0


As you can see, a Starbucks Grande comes in at a whopping 330mg of caffeine. Were you aware of the fact that their "decaf" has 60mg in it? So matter what, Starbucks wants you to come back and by stepping up the caffeine you slowing begin to crave it. Many times when discussing caffeine and headache with patients, they are often surprised by this fact. They also usually present in the exam room sipping a 16oz cup of java.

Can you have one or two small cups of coffee a day? Probably. Can you have one or two pots of coffee? No that is way too much so try to cut back. This is especially true for teens adn pre-teens. They are still growing and caffeine can affect bone growth in addition to causing insomnia.

Sources: Johns Hopkins University Online at www.hopkinsmedicine.org/Press_releases/2004/09_29_04.html



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