In the Migraine Specialist clinic we are often asked the following question: Does drinking coffee cause or cure my headaches?
The answer is not completely straightforward and there are a couple of things you need to know about the relationship between coffee and headaches because caffeine is a two-edged sword when it comes to headaches. It can lead to either generation or alleviation of headaches.
Caffeine has different effects with episodic intake versus regular exposure.
Regular use of caffeine leads to physical dependence, and abstinence can result in a withdrawal syndrome. This syndrome includes symptoms suggestive of migraine including severe headache, fatigue, nausea and vomiting.
The higher prevalence of migraine reported on weekend mornings has been partially attributed to the withdrawal effects of caffeine.
Regular caffeine consumption is associated with chronic migraine, the development of chronic daily headaches and analgesic overuse headaches. To reduce the risk of developing these conditions, patients prone to headaches should limit their caffeine exposures.
On the flip side of the equation, however, episodic caffeine intake, although in some individuals is capable of triggering a migraine, may prove to be an effective adjunct in treating acute migraine. Certainly, some of our patients are very surprised when we recommend their acute oral migraine medication be taken with a strong coffee!
During migraine attacks stomach emptying may be delayed, and oral medications are unable to be absorbed and exert their treatment effect. Caffeine can improve the stomach’s motility, and, as well as allowing for absorption of oral medications, may exert a direct pain-relieving effect itself.
Note: Information on this site is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
Caffeine and headaches, Shapiro, Neurol Sci (2007) 28:S179-S183
The Truth About Triggers, Rothrock, Headache 2008 American Headache Society