For many years researchers have been looking for the root of what causes migraines. They believe migraine pain is created when blood flow is irritated by something called a migraine trigger and the blood vessels leading to your brain are inflamed. In turn, the blood vessels constrict and contract in various ways causing the throbbing and pulsing pain that you feel during a migraine attack.
One of the many common migraine triggers is caffeine. However, it is found in many of the common migraine treatment options as well, such as Excedrin Migraine and Migergot and Cafergot. So, the question is, does caffeine cause migraines or does caffeine relieve migraine pain?
What Is Caffeine?
Before you answer the question as to whether or not caffeine causes or treats migraines, you should become educated about what caffeine is. Caffeine is found naturally in chocolate and tea, and is added to many beverages, such as soda, coffee, and prescription and non-prescription medications, such as pain relievers and common cold medications.
Caffeine is a stimulant that causes different reactions in people varying from an increase in alertness, a decrease in fatigue, and also has the ability to improve muscle coordination. However, for some people who may be overly sensitive to caffeine, they may develop anxiety, mood changes, an inability to sleep, their muscle may twitch, and they may also develop abdominal pain.
Additionally, once you ingest caffeine it is fully absorbed into your body within about 30-45 minutes and the effects of caffeine are worn off in approximately three hours, and are excreted without excess caffeine left behind in your body.
Although caffeine is not necessarily classified as addictive, for many people, without a daily caffeine intake, their body can go through withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms can include headache, fatigue, lack of energy, decreased alertness, drowsiness, depression, difficulty concentrating, and being irritable.
Symptoms of withdrawal usually set it approximately 12-24 hours after lack of caffeine, and peak somewhere around 20-50 hours, making it very hard for someone to cut caffeine out of their daily intake.
Caffeine Causes Migraines
Many migraine experts will agree that there is definitely a connection between migraines and caffeine, and as a stimulant, caffeine acts on the central nervous system, making you more alert. However, it also acts as a vasoconstrictor, constricting your blood vessels, works as a diuretic, and possibly increases your blood pressure.
Because caffeine is a stimulant, and is loaded with sugar, it not only picks you up, but drops you back down quickly. Altering your blood sugar levels so rapidly, especially on an empty stomach can cause a migraine very quickly. It is important to eat when drinking caffeine to prevent this rapid blood sugar spike and decrease that causes migraine attacks.
Caffeine as a diuretic can also deplete your body of some of the nutrients it needs, such as magnesium. Research has shown that caffeine actually takes out the magnesium your body needs as you excrete out the caffeine. If you are drinking a lot of caffeine you may want to speak with you physician about adding a magnesium supplement to prevent the extra loss of the magnesium your body needs.
Additionally, caffeine adversely affects the blood vessels leading to your brain as well. Although caffeine helps your blood vessels constrict, caffeine can cause your blood vessels to expand and instigate a migraine. It is important to monitor your caffeine intake to determine if too much caffeine could be causing your migraine attacks.
Conversely, a caffeine withdrawal could be the cause of your migraine attacks as well. Known as the “weekend migraine”, many people who drink several cups of coffee before lunch on a normal workday and then sleep in on the weekend and miss out on those cups of coffee will begin to experience caffeine withdrawal and have a migraine caused by lack of caffeine.
Taking medications that contain caffeine while still consuming caffeine may cause rebound migraines from an excess amount of caffeine. It is recommended that while you are taking medications such as Excedrin Migraine and Cafergot you limit the amount of caffeinated beverages you consume.
Research has discovered that it may not be the amount of caffeine you consume as much as it is the regularity of your caffeine intake. It is recommended that you if chronically suffer from migraines, keep the amount you consume even or, if possible, none at all.
Caffeine Cures Migraines
The other side of the migraine and caffeine story is that caffeine cures migraines. As was mentioned earlier caffeine helps constrict your blood vessels, but only if done properly. Where medications are concerned, each tablet, or pill has a limited amount of caffeine, and is supposed to be taken only in a limited quantity.
Additionally, additives in pain relievers make them approximately 40% more effective in treating migraines, and aide the absorption of the medication to bring faster pain relief. This in turn allows you to be able to take less medication, as your migraine pain will be gone faster, and your side effects will be less likely, as will a possibility for drug addiction.
There are many non-prescription medications that contain caffeine to aid in migraine pain relief, such as Bayer Select Maximum Strength Headache Pain Relief, Excedrin Migraine and Goody’s Headache Powder. Prescription medications that contain caffeine include Fiorinal capsules and tablets, Triaminicin with codeine tablets and Cafergot tablets. It is important that you discuss how to take each of these medications, prescription and non-prescription, with your physician.
The debate as to whether caffeine causes migraines or cures migraines will go on for eternity, because it depends on the individual. For many people it is helpful and for many others caffeine can be harmful and cause migraines.
For this reason many physicians recommend keeping a migraine diary to track your migraine attacks, and the triggers you have been exposed to, including caffeine. This will enable you to determine if caffeine is a migraine trigger for you, or whether or not caffeine gives you migraine pain relief.
Either way, as was mentioned before, it is best to discuss all of your migraine attacks, symptoms and triggers with your physician to determine the best possible course of treatment for you.