Is Your Headache Triggered By Caffeine?


If you're used to drinking coffee to start your day, you might have experienced a "caffeine headache" when you don't get your morning cup of Joe.

You're not alone. In fact, such caffeine withdrawal headache is quite common among coffee drinkers if they don't get their "fix." Here's what causes caffeine withdrawal headaches, how caffeine consumption can affect its severity, and how you can minimize the symptoms:

The Cause of "Caffeine Headache"

When we drink coffee, or any caffeinated beverages (e.g., tea, energy drinks,) the caffeine causes the blood vessels in the brain to constrict. When you stop the caffeine intake, the blood vessels in the brain dilate. This increases the blood flow and can trigger a headache.

Although "caffeine headache" is most commonly caused by withdrawal, it can also be triggered by excessive intake, caffeine sensitivity, allergic reaction, or a fluctuation of caffeine consumption from day to day.

How Caffeine Consumption Affects Headaches

We metabolize caffeine at different rates so there's no hard and fast rule on how much caffeine one can consume before experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Your bodyweight also affects how much caffeine is safe -- the heavier a person is, the more caffeine he can consume without negative effects.

For most healthy adults, an intake of 300-400 mg of caffeine a day is found to be safe in general. This amount is equivalent to four cups of brewed coffee, 10 cans of cola, or two "energy shot" drinks (e.g., Red Bull.) However, for some people who are sensitive or allergic to caffeine, even just a small amount can trigger reactions such as headache.

Be mindful about the various sources of caffeine, such as black tea, green tea, chocolate, some soda, and certain OTC medications, which can add to your daily caffeine intake without you even realizing it.

How To Minimize Caffeine Withdrawal Headache

If you're trying to reduce your caffeine dependency by dialing back on your intake, unpleasant withdrawal symptoms can put a damp on your efforts. Here's how to minimize caffeine withdrawal headaches:

  • Wean off your caffeine intake gradually. You can reduce intake by 25% each week and swap out some of your regular coffee with decaf if you crave the taste (or comfort) of a steaming cup of coffee.

  • Read food labels to ensure that you're not consuming extra caffeine you aren't aware of.

  • Use peppermint oil topically to help relieve inflammation and tight muscles associated with headaches.

  • Drink plenty of water since dehydration can cause the brain to shrink in volume and cause a headache.

  • Apply an ice pack to your head to alter the blood flow or numb the area.

  • Stimulate pressure points to relieve muscle tension, which can cause headaches.

  • Get enough rest by taking naps or going to bed earlier than usual.

Caffeine headaches can be caused by a variety of triggers and withdrawal is one of the most common reasons. You can track your caffeine intake and notice how your body reacts so you can adjust your consumption and find the best way to wean your body from caffeine dependence while minimizing the withdrawal symptoms.