Woman with her head down on her desk and several coffee cups

Why a Caffeine Headache Occurs and Caffeine Withdrawal

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Many people can’t imagine starting a single day without a morning cup of coffee. Caffeine is a substance that is generally safe for adults in small doses, but it can become addictive when consumed in excess over time. Interestingly, caffeine withdrawal can lead to headaches in many individuals, but it is also used in low doses to treat headaches with pain reliever medications.1,3 This article discusses how caffeine affects the body and how caffeine withdrawal can lead to a very painful caffeine headache. It will also address how to get rid of caffeine headache symptoms when they occur and preventative tips for safe caffeine consumption.

What Caffeine Does to the Body

Caffeine is a mild stimulant that comes with a risk of dependency. In the human body, it stimulates the release of stress hormones and adrenaline that provide an energy boost. However, this energy boost doesn’t last all day, and many people experience a “crash” followed by a need for more caffeine to re-stimulate the body. By causing blood vessels to constrict or become more narrow, caffeine is effective in reducing headaches and other symptoms.3 Caffeine is potent, which means that the effects of it can typically be felt in 30 minutes or less.
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The Cause of a Caffeine Headache & The Caffeine Headache Location

The most common initial location of symptoms for caffeine headache is behind the eyes. From there, a caffeine headache may spread to the forehead and elsewhere on the head. Not only can a caffeine headache be caused by withdrawal, but also excessive caffeine intake, an allergy to caffeine, and varying caffeine consumption from day to day. Caffeine withdrawal headaches can be moderate or severe.

Other Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal

In addition to a caffeine headache, other caffeine withdrawal symptoms include sleepiness, irritability, constipation, and insomnia. Individuals may also experience flu-like symptoms, nausea, vomiting, muscle stiffness, dizziness, and even heart rhythm abnormalities if their bodies are suddenly denied a steady dose of caffeine.2 These symptoms typically last for a few days but can last longer or be more severe in people who have gotten accustomed to consuming significant amounts of caffeine per day.

How to Get Rid of a Caffeine Headache

To treat a caffeine headache, one of the best things to do is to take a nap or get a good night’s sleep. Rest is often enough to get caffeine headache sufferers back on their feet and feeling good again. Staying hydrated is also essential in helping prevent and treat these headaches. Other at-home remedies include ice packs, pressure points, and OTC pain relievers.2 However, it’s important to remember that caffeine isn’t inherently bad and when it is consumed in moderation. Caffeine, when combined with aspirin and acetaminophen, is actually capable of aiding in headache relief.1 If caffeine headaches are an ongoing issue, consider slowly reducing the daily caffeine intake and switching to low-caffeine or caffeine-free tea as an alternative to other caffeinated beverages. Vanquish® is indicated for tension headaches. If you have a cluster headache, sinus headache, migraine headache or any other type of headache you may want to consult a doctor.
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References for Why a Caffeine Headache Occurs and Caffeine Withdrawal

  1. Altabakhi, I. W., & Zito, P. M. (2018, December 2). Acetaminophen/Aspirin/Caffeine. Retrieved on August 22, 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513274/
  2. Healthline. Caffeine Withdrawal Headache: Why It Happens and What You Can Do. Retrieved on August 28, 2019 from https://www.healthline.com/health/headache/caffeine-withdrawal-headache
  3. National Headache Foundation. Does Caffeine Trigger or Treat Headaches? Retrieved on August 19, 2019 from https://headaches.org/2019/02/24/does-caffeine-trigger-or-treat-headaches/
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