Coffee contains caffeine, a key ingredient in various headache medications. However, drinking coffee is not a viable treatment option for migraine headaches. This is because caffeine’s effects on the brain can vary depending on how often a person uses it. In some cases, drinking coffee may trigger migraine headaches.

While caffeine can help treat migraine headaches in some cases, it can also cause them.

This article examines the relationship between drinking coffee and migraine headaches. It also looks at alternative treatment options.

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According to the American Migraine Foundation (AMF), drinking coffee is not a viable treatment for migraine headaches.

Although caffeine can help provide some headache relief for those with migraine, caffeine’s effects on the brain can vary depending on how someone uses it.

If a person uses caffeine occasionally, it may help provide short-term, modest relief from migraine headaches.

However, with daily or near-daily consumption, a person can develop a tolerance to caffeine. This means that the usual dose will become less effective, so someone will require higher doses to maintain the same effects.

How can caffeine relieve a migraine headache?

A 2020 article notes that health experts previously considered migraine a vascular condition. When a person develops a migraine headache, vasodilation occurs, meaning blood vessels expand, causing pain.

Researchers theorized that caffeine was able to help relieve migraine headaches due to its vasoconstrictive properties. The substance can cause the blood vessels to narrow and restrict blood flow, which can aid in relieving head pain.

However, doctors now consider migraine a neurological condition.

During a migraine headache, the levels of adenosine in the blood increase. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that has many functions in the body, including controlling some aspects of sleep and movement and temporarily widening the blood vessels. It can also cause migraine headaches.

Adenosine sticks to receptors present on some brain cells. Caffeine can interfere with the action of these receptors, stopping the effects of the neurotransmitter.

However, studies show that caffeine is effective at reducing migraine headaches in combination with other drugs. The addition of caffeine to other medications can enhance the efficacy of other migraine medications.

A person who wishes to drink coffee to help treat migraine headaches should speak with a doctor.

The previous 2020 article states that drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks can trigger a migraine headache.

Consuming caffeine can cause a migraine headache in two ways: dehydration and the loss of magnesium during urination.

Additionally, higher doses of caffeine have a diuretic effect, which can cause a person to urinate more frequently. This can lead to dehydration, resulting in a migraine headache.

It can also increase the loss of magnesium during urination. Magnesium plays a beneficial role in chronic pain conditions, such as migraine.

The researchers also state that consuming excess caffeine carries the risk of turning episodic migraine headaches into chronic migraine headaches. Doctors consider migraine to be chronic if the headache lasts for 15 days or more per month for more than 3 months.

Caffeine withdrawal and migraine headaches

Caffeine withdrawal is a migraine trigger. One review of studies found that between 2% and 30% of people reported caffeine or caffeine withdrawal as triggers for their migraine headaches.

The AMF notes that a person can become dependent on caffeine in 7 days and that the daily consumption of 100 milligrams (mg) can continue this dependency.

If someone starts to decrease the amount of caffeine they consume, it can result in withdrawal symptoms, including headaches.

A 2022 article states that around 50% of people experiencing caffeine withdrawal report having headaches.

The symptoms of caffeine withdrawal can begin 12–24 hours after a person stops consuming caffeine. They usually peak after 20–51 hours and can last for 2–9 days.

Learn more about symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.

Approximately 87% of all Americans consume caffeine daily, with an average intake of 193 mg per day.

For the general population, excluding children and pregnant people, consuming up to 400 mg per day of caffeine does not raise health concerns.

However, those with migraine should limit their caffeine consumption to less than 200 mg per day, equivalent to approximately 2 cups of coffee.

If a person is taking medications that contain caffeine, they should ensure that they only do so as the doctor has instructed.

For coffee to have the classification “decaffeinated,” manufacturers must remove around 97.5% of its caffeine. However, this means that decaffeinated coffee still contains caffeine.

Therefore, people with caffeine sensitivities should be careful when choosing and consuming decaffeinated coffee, especially if caffeine is a migraine trigger for them.

If those with migraine wish to continue drinking coffee, they may find the following tips helpful:

  • Remain aware of the amount of caffeine they consume daily.
  • Try to limit their caffeine intake to no more than 200 mg daily.
  • Keep track of all the products that they consume that contain caffeine. This includes coffee, tea, energy drinks, medications, and soft drinks.
  • Keep their daily caffeine intake consistent.

If people wish to stop drinking coffee, they should slowly taper their caffeine intake over a couple of weeks.

People may find it beneficial to keep track of their headaches using a diary that records what they have eaten and how much caffeine they have consumed throughout the day.

To treat migraine, a doctor may prescribe the following medications:

  • anti-inflammatories, such as acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • triptans
  • antiemetics to help prevent nausea and vomiting
  • beta-blockers
  • antiepileptics
  • antidepressants
  • botox
  • calcitonin gene-related peptide receptor antagonists

Learn more about migraine medications.

There are a few integrative options to treat migraine headaches. Some of these include:

  • Acupuncture: There is some evidence to suggest acupuncture can help alleviate migraine headaches.
  • Biofeedback therapy: Biofeedback therapy and relaxation training typically lead to a 45–60% reduction in headache frequency and severity.
  • Yoga: Stress can be a trigger for migraine headaches. Yoga may help lower stress and anxiety levels.

Learn more about home remedies for migraine relief and prevention.

Migraine headaches can cause intense headaches on one side of the head.

Some studies have shown that drinking coffee can help in reducing the severity of migraine headaches. Others have demonstrated that caffeine can trigger migraine headaches.

If people with migraine wish to continue drinking coffee, they should avoid consuming more than 200 mg of caffeine each day.

Those who wish to stop drinking coffee should slowly decrease their caffeine intake over a few weeks. This will help avoid caffeine withdrawal symptoms.

Some migraine medications contain caffeine. A person should speak with a doctor about how much caffeine is safe for them to consume.