Caffeine Headaches

How Caffeine Can Both Cause and Cure Headaches

Typical espresso coffee in glass cup

Les Hirondelles Photography/ Moment/ Getty Images

Caffeine headaches are headaches caused by caffeine consumption. These headaches are usually felt behind the eyes and can range from mild to debilitating. Caffeine is a naturally occurring stimulant found in coffee, tea, yerba mate, and chocolate, and it is added to many sodas and colas. Learn how these headaches are produced and how caffeine can be the cause or the cure for headaches.

Caffeine Withdrawal Headaches

Although too much caffeine can cause headaches, the most common cause of caffeine headaches is caffeine withdrawal.

Caffeine withdrawal occurs when you have developed a caffeine addiction and then you suddenly reduce or eliminate your caffeine consumption. Caffeine addiction is not necessarily the result of long-term or high-level caffeine consumption. It can develop in as little as a few days of drinking lattes or other drinks with caffeine. However, most caffeine withdrawal headaches are a result of consuming more than 200 milligrams of caffeine or more per day for two weeks or longer before reducing or eliminating caffeine in the diet.

When your body gets used to a certain level of caffeine, you may notice that you experience fatigue and other side effects (such as headaches) until you have reached your typical level of caffeine consumption. Caffeine withdrawal side effects are reversible. You simply consume your usual level of caffeine to get rid of them.

Consuming caffeine as a cure for caffeine withdrawal headaches can be a problem for people who are trying to reduce or eliminate caffeine in their diets. Alternate cures include sleep, massage, acupressure, caffeine-free medication (some headache relievers, like Excedrin and Goody's, contain caffeine), and drinking plenty of water. To avoid getting caffeine withdrawal headaches, it's best to gradually reduce your caffeine consumption.

Caffeine for Headaches

In addition to quickly curing caffeine withdrawal headaches, caffeine may help cure regular headaches and even migraines.

Some studies have shown that small doses of caffeine taken in conjunction with pain relievers may help the body absorb the medication more quickly and cure a headache in a shorter period of time. Although most pain relievers begin to take effect within 15 minutes, every minute can make a difference when you're suffering from a particularly bad headache.

Additionally, more than 65 milligrams of caffeine taken in conjunction with pain relievers has been shown to improve headache relief by approximately 40 percent—a substantial difference in results. Some people find that they don't need to take as much of a given pain reliever when it is taken in conjunction with caffeine, and some doctors advocate taking medications with caffeine to reduce the likelihood of developing an addiction to a given pain reliever.

An increase in the speed and efficacy of pain relievers are the reasons that some prescription and over-the-counter pain medications contain caffeine. However, it is unclear whether or not caffeine taken without a pain reliever is an effective headache cure.

Other Caffeine Headaches

Besides caffeine withdrawal headaches, there are two main types of caffeine headaches: headaches from excess caffeine consumption and rebound headaches also called medication overuse headaches.

Headaches from excess caffeine consumption can be cured or helped by drinking peppermint tea, getting a massage, drinking plenty of water, or taking caffeine-free pain relievers. Some people find that consuming food before consuming caffeine can provide a cushion for their caffeine absorption and reduce the chances of a caffeine overdose or headache from too much caffeine consumption. Obviously, headaches from excess caffeine can also be avoided by limiting your caffeine intake.

Rebound headaches or medication overuse headaches are a type of headaches caused by overmedicating with pain relievers and some related types of medications. The medications may or may not contain caffeine. The overuse of pain relievers and caffeine in conjunction can increase the likelihood of getting a rebound headache when the levels of pain relievers and caffeine in your bloodstream are reduced.

You can avoid rebound headaches by taking medications in moderation, or by periodically not taking the medication in question for three consecutive days. You can help cure rebound headaches by drinking peppermint tea, getting a massage, drinking plenty of water, and resting.

Article Sources
The Spruce Eats uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Alstadhaug KB, Andreou AP. Caffeine and Primary (Migraine) Headaches-Friend or Foe?. Front Neurol. 2019;10:1275.  doi:10.3389/fneur.2019.01275

  2. US National Library of Medicine. Caffeine. Updated April 2, 2015.

  3. Lipton RB, Diener HC, Robbins MS, Garas SY, Patel K. Caffeine in the management of patients with headache. J Headache Pain. 2017;18(1):107. doi:10.1186/s10194-017-0806-2

  4. Meredith SE, Juliano LM, Hughes JR, Griffiths RR. Caffeine Use Disorder: A Comprehensive Review and Research Agenda. J Caffeine Res. 2013;3(3):114-130.  doi:10.1089/jcr.2013.0016

  5. Cleveland Clinic. Headaches: rebound headaches. Updated June 15, 2016.