Many people have heard the claim, perhaps from relatives or colleagues, that coffee can alleviate headaches. Some headache medications contain caffeine. But does drinking a cup of coffee actually help with headaches?

Migraine: The Benefits of Coffee

Coffee, specifically the caffeine it contains, significantly relieves headache pain, especially when migraines cause it. Indeed, caffeine acts as a stimulant and vasoconstrictor, releasing adrenaline and noradrenaline while blocking adenosine receptors. This helps reduce migraine symptoms.

However, there is a slight difference when it comes to tension headaches caused by lifestyle factors rather than an underlying pathology. In these cases, coffee may not improve the headache and could potentially worsen it.

Coffee and Migraines

Coffee may positively affect individuals who suffer from migraines, as some analgesic medications for migraines contain caffeine.

During a migraine episode, consuming a small amount of coffee, possibly with a few drops of lemon, could help reduce the pain. However, consuming food or beverages, including coffee, may be challenging when experiencing other symptoms, such as nausea or vomiting.

Caffeine and Hypnic Headache

Caffeine has been found to be effective in treating hypnic headaches, which primarily occur in older individuals at night.

Hypnic headaches are characterized by sudden moderate bilateral pain lasting from 15 minutes to 4 hours, without additional signs or symptoms such as nausea or vomiting.

Consuming a cup of coffee (or a caffeine tablet) before bedtime may alleviate the effects of hypnic headaches and even prevent their onset.

Caffeine Withdrawal Headache

It is important to note that excessive coffee consumption can trigger migraines and lead to caffeine withdrawal headaches. Caffeine withdrawal headaches can occur when individuals who are accustomed to consuming coffee (more than 4-5 cups per day) abruptly stop drinking it. The amount of coffee intake that can result in a withdrawal headache varies from person to person.

It’s worth mentioning that this type of headache, related to caffeine and not coffee specifically, can also occur when cola or tea consumption is suddenly stopped.

Managing Headaches

While coffee (preferably unsweetened) can help counteract the vasodilation that exacerbates migraines, it should be consumed in moderation due to the potential for caffeine-induced insomnia, which can aggravate migraines. Here are some alternatives to coffee:

  • Herbal tea or chamomile tea can be alternatives to coffee, mainly for tension headaches;
  • Taking a walk before bedtime can benefit both migraines and tension headaches in the evening.

It’s important to note that individuals with migraines may experience heightened symptoms if they feel compelled to engage in activities, even something as simple as a walk or drinking coffee.

Recurrent Headaches and Neurological Examination

Regardless of the potential benefits of coffee in relieving headaches, it is crucial to consult a trusted specialist when experiencing recurrent headaches.

A neurological examination can help determine whether the headaches are symptoms or indications of an underlying condition. The specialist will recommend the most suitable treatment based on the individual case.