Does Caffeine Cause or Help Migraines?

migraine-medication-caffeineMigraines are one of the common health problems. When the attacks or episodes occur, painkillers are usually needed for a quick relief. In 1984, researchers found that caffeine could give a boost to the effectiveness of pain relievers. Since then this bitter substance found in coffee and tea became a common ingredient in headache medications, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen. However, it is important to note that caffeine is a double-edged sword for migraine sufferers. In other words, while it can treat this genetic neurological disease it may make it worse due to withdrawal reaction.

Headaches can be caused by chemical changes in blood vessels, nerves or brain. Currently several types have been identified and among them the most common one is tension headaches that are mostly on both sides of the head. While migraine is more common in women and tends to affect their vision, cluster headaches often suddenly occur and tend to affect one eye of men.

Although coffee should be the most popular source, tea and chocolate also contain this ingredient. As a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant, caffeine has a refreshing effect and helps combat fatigue and stop feeling tired. As mentioned earlier, it is often added to soft drinks and non-prescription drugs such as pain relievers and cold medicines. In addition, this is also an ingredient commonly found in medications for stress, weight loss, muscle coordination, and so on. It is worth mentioning that the effects of caffeine vary from person to person and overdose may lead to severe anxiety, sleep disorders, muscle twisting, or unusual pain.

Since caffeine is a basic component of many prescription and non-prescription headache medicine, how does caffeine treat migraines? First, this central nervous system stimulant itself can relieve pain caused by tension headaches. Some migraine sufferers also reported that it is able to prevent migraine attacks. Statistics shows that it additionally relieves 40 percent of the pain. Second, it helps the body absorb the active ingredient more quickly and thus provides an instant relief. Third, when it is added it can reduce the dose and then minimize the side effects of pain relievers.

Let’s take aspirin or acetaminophen as an example. When caffeine is added, it can make them work faster and better. It has also been suggested that this addition is more of promoting the efficacy of painkillers rather than playing a role on its own. But a comparative test between caffeine and acetaminophen found that it is more than just a placebo and instead it works just like acetaminophen on relieving tension headaches. The neurologists and headache specialists believe that its analgesic effect may have something to do with its ability on blocking the adenosine receptors in the brain. By the way, brain adenosine levels increase during a migraine attack.

In general, a caffeine-containing painkiller tablet contains 30 to 33.4 mg of caffeine. And the patients shouldn’t take up to 4 tablets, about 120mg of caffeine, each day. To illustrate the point, a cup of 8-ounce glass coffee is a good reference since it contains about 95-135 mg of this substance. When it is used as medicine, it doesn’t cause obvious dependence in short-term use. But there have been reported that the withdrawal could cause headache though it is generally mild and short-term.

There is no denying that moderate coffee consumption won’t pose problems. However, if a person is used to drinking more than five cups of coffee daily, abrupt discontinuation tends to make him or her experience caffeine withdrawal symptoms. Similarly, people with migraine should not take painkillers containing caffeine daily. Otherwise, it can be counterproductive if overused.

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