Coffee is noted as a rich source of caffeine for increasing alertness but it has another use – migraine treatment. A patient can get caffeine capsules in any pharmacy either as a prescription or as an over-the-counter medication (OTC). Caffeine is present in some cold medicine, some diuretics, some pain relievers and stimulants. It is a frequent compound in sports drinks, sodas, chocolate, tea and coffee drinks. Many migraine sufferers report that taking an adequate dose of coffee at the onset of an attack can mitigate the episode.

Headache pain is caused by dilated blood vessels pressing against the nerves. Coffee is a vascular constrictor. In a nutshell, it tightens the blood vessels thus taking pressure away from pinched nerves and relieving pain. This is why you are likely to find caffeine in some pain relievers. The amount of caffeine in migraine medication rarely varies between 200-300 mg of caffeine. If you are a migraine sufferer and a regular coffee drinker, reduce the amount of coffee that you drink on an average day to 1 cup. If you want 2 cups, be sure to leave a few hours between your morning and evening cup so that the caffeine will have an increased effect when you need it most.

The amount of caffeine in an average 5 oz cup of caffeinated coffee can vary greatly between 30-160 mg. A good rule of thumb is that the lighter the roast, the stronger the cup. Caffeine is an alkaloid which can be damaged by roasting and processing. This is why heavily processed coffee like instant coffee crystals only has about 50 mg. The dose is important. Espresso has between 30-50 mg of caffeine per 1 ounce portion (shot). If you are taking coffee as a medicine, remember that it also has a diuretic effect. For some, 2 cups of drip coffee is all the medicine they need.

People that consume over 500 mg of caffeine a day are more likely to have both migraines and coffee withdrawal headaches. For those with high coffee consumption, it is the stimulating effect of the caffeine that causes migraines. Some people have a low tolerance to caffeine and are thus more likely to get rebound headaches if they miss their daily java fix. As always, moderation is the key. Even drinking a glass of water in the morning before firing up the percolator can help reduce the jitters and increase the effect of that first, freshly brewed cup.

To increase the effect that caffeine has on a headache, apply a cold pack to the back of your neck or to your forehead in order further constrict the blood vessels. Always remember that the sooner you catch a migraine, the more likely you are to stop it. Keep a log of diet, exercise and water consumption to help you keep track of any habits that may be preventable triggers.

If you have insomnia, high blood pressure, anxiety, peptic ulcers or chronic fatigue, do not use caffeine. It can make these concerns worse. It is important to note that migraines are different for different people. For some people, coffee can trigger instead of treat a migraine. There are other migraine remedies and prevention is always the first line of defense. Talk to a qualified healthcare professional if you have reoccurring migraines.


Further Reading

National Headache Foundation – Can Caffeine Trigger or Treat Headaches

American Migraine Foundation – Caffeine and Migraine

The Migraine Relief Center