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Caffeine Headaches: Does Coffee Cause or Help Headaches?

a man holding his head and looking at the laptop near a cup of coffee

Caffeine can be, and has been, used as a cure for headaches. It is often found in over-the-counter pain medications. Conversely, many people suffer headaches as a result of consuming caffeine, and caffeine withdrawal headaches can be a problem for moderate to heavy consumers.

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Can Caffeine Cause Headaches?

Caffeine is a stimulant. It increases brain activity and, in particular, it improves alertness, which is why coffee drinkers feel more awake after consuming their favorite drink. Experts generally recommend that 400 milligrams of caffeine is safe for a healthy adult, but we all have different tolerance levels, so this amount might be too much for some people. You can get a headache from too much caffeine, and other symptoms of caffeine sensitivity include disturbed sleep, anxiety, elevated heart rate, diarrhea, and even muscle breakdown.

a hand holding a cup of coffee
Image Credit: Merve Tülek, Pexels

Caffeine Sensitivity

While some people can consume the equivalent of 400mg of caffeine in a day, roughly equivalent to four cups of brewed coffee, other people may suffer some side effects after two or even a single cup of coffee.

Sufferers of caffeine sensitivity effectively start to feel the effects of the stimulant sooner than others would. A single cup of coffee can elevate the heart rate and increase feelings of anxiety. It can also lead to headaches.

The only real cure for caffeine sensitivity is to avoid consuming caffeine altogether or to greatly limit the amount consumed so that symptoms do not manifest.

Caffeine Withdrawal

Caffeine withdrawal occurs when a regular caffeine drinker suddenly stops their consumption. Symptoms can include fatigue, a lack of energy, heightened anxiety, irritability, a lack of concentration, and even tremors. Headaches are a very common symptom of caffeine withdrawal.

The immediate solution to caffeine withdrawal symptoms is to consume caffeine, but the longer-term solution is to limit caffeine intake so that the body doesn’t demand it, in the future. It is best to gradually reduce caffeine intake over time, allowing your body the opportunity to become accustomed to lower levels and therefore preventing these withdrawal symptoms.

a woman at work massaging her head
Image Credit: Olya Kobruseva, Pexels

Does Caffeine Help With Headaches?

Although caffeine can cause headaches, it has also been proven to help abate headaches in certain situations and under certain conditions.

Headache Cure

Headaches can be caused in various ways. A common cause of headaches is when blood flow around the brain increases. Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor. It causes blood vessels to narrow, reducing blood flow, and therefore reducing pain. In these cases, caffeine alone can alleviate headache pain.

Painkiller Adjuvant

Studies have also shown that caffeine can also help improve the effectiveness of certain types of painkillers. One study shows that painkiller effectiveness improves by as much as 10% with the addition of caffeine.

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Caffeine is a stimulant that is enjoyed the world over for its ability to enhance concentration and increase energy levels. However, too much caffeine can cause symptoms including headaches, and because we all have different tolerance levels, caffeine sensitivity can also lead to a caffeine headache, while caffeine withdrawals are a serious problem for moderate to heavy consumers that stop abruptly.

On the other hand, caffeine also has the power to alleviate certain types of headaches while facilitating the headache fighting capabilities of over-the-counter painkillers like Ibuprofen. If you are suffering headaches that you believe might be linked to caffeine, consider your consumption levels and patterns, and try to efficiently regulate your intake.

Remember that gradual caffeine reduction is less likely to cause headaches and other potentially painful symptoms.

Featured Image Credit: Andrea Piacquadio, Pexels


Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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