Is coffee a cause or cure for headache?
The associations between coffee and migraine in particular were recently discussed in the media following the publication of a research paper on the topic. The study found there was an association between the number of caffeinated beverages consumed and the odds of having a migraine headache that day . The authors reported that the results varied according to habitual intake and oral contraceptive use , indicating the individual variability in reactions.
Some research also suggests that headaches are more frequent in caffeine over-users , for example, the Torres-Ferrus et al. study, which was based on an anonymous questionnaire about lifestyle and medical information. The results suggested that headache was more common in girls, teenagers with poor sleeping habits or lower levels of physical activity and in those who did not have breakfast.
However, it is recognised in the research that whilst some people find caffeine triggers their headaches, there are others who use the compound as a cure for the condition3. Caffeine is an ingredient in a lot of widely used headache medications [3,4]. A 2017 review suggested that caffeine significantly improved the efficacy of analgesic medications, such as ibuprofen, in treating migraine3. Caffeine may play a role in pain modulation (management) through its interaction with adenosine receptors .
The use of caffeine is recommended by organisations including the American Headache Society for acute treatment of headaches6. However, it seems individual variability also plays a role, as some people report experiencing headache or migraine after caffeine consumption.
- Mostofsky E. et al. (2019) ‘Prospective cohort study of caffeinated beverage intake as a potential trigger of headaches among migraineurs’. Am J Med, 132(8): 984-991.
- Torres-Ferrus M. et al. (2019) Headache, comorbidities and lifestyle in an adolescent population (The TEENs Study). Cephalalgia, 39(1):91-99.
- Lipton R.B. et al (2017) Caffeine in the management of patients with headache. J Headache Pain, 18(1):107.
- Nehlig A. (2016) Effects of coffee/caffeine on brain health and disease. What should I tell my patients? Pract Neurol, 16(2):89-95.
- Baratloo A. et al. (2016) The role of caffeine in pain management: A brief literature review. Anesth Pain Med, 6(3):e33193.
- Altabakhi I.W., Zito P.M. (2018) Acetaminophen/aspirin/Caffeine. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30020646
This information is intended for Healthcare professional audiences.
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