February 23, 2024/Brain & Nervous System

Does Caffeine Help Headaches?

It’s all about the amount — try to stick to 100 to 150 milligrams a day to reduce and prevent a pounding, throbbing head

Close up of person pouring a cup of coffee

Many of us are fueled by caffeine — a couple cups of coffee, a soda for lunch and maybe an energy drink if we’re really dragging and need a boost.


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But what if your head is pounding and throbbing? Does caffeine help headaches?

Yes and no. In fact, there’s a case to be made that some caffeine can actually help keep some types of headaches at bay. So, how much should you be drinking?

Headache specialist Emad Estemalik, MD, explains what’s the right amount of caffeine and how it may help with certain kinds of headaches.

Why does caffeine help headaches?

First, let’s start with how much is a good amount: Research shows that around 100 to 150 milligrams of caffeine (which is equivalent to a small cup of coffee) tends to help reduce and even prevent headaches.

And that’s thanks to how caffeine constricts the blood vessels in your brain, says Dr. Estemalik.

“For example, if you have a migraine, the blood vessels in your brain are dilated (or more open),” he explains. “The right amount of caffeine can constrict (or narrow) the blood vessels — so the caffeine is acting as a vasoconstrictor.”

Can caffeine also trigger headaches?

Yes, too much caffeine can lead to headaches.

“If you get into larger amounts of caffeine, then it can have the opposite effect — bringing on a headache and increasing the frequency of headaches,” warns Dr. Estemalik. “And it’s not just coffee, but any caffeinated beverages or energy drinks.”


Also, you may experience a headache if you quit caffeine cold turkey or don’t maintain the same level of caffeine daily.

“If your body is used to a daily consumption of caffeine and you abruptly stop, you will often feel some minor withdrawal symptoms like irritability, sleep disturbance and headaches,” shares Dr. Estemalik. “The good news is those symptoms usually don’t last more than a few days.”

Another tip? Dr. Estemalik says that while it’s important to focus on how much caffeine you consume, you also want to try to avoid caffeine late in the afternoon or at night.

“Having caffeine later in the day can cause sleep disruptions,” he notes.

Does caffeine only help specific types of headaches?

Yes, says Dr. Estemalik. Caffeine can help with tension headaches and migraine headaches. Vasodilation, or the dilatation of blood vessels, happens during these types of headaches. And caffeine constricts blood vessels, acting as a vasoconstrictor.

But when it comes to cluster headaches, caffeine doesn’t help. And that’s because the pathophysiology, or the physical and function changes that happen during a tension headache, are different from tension headaches and migraine headaches.

While healthcare providers don’t know the exact reason you may get a cluster headache, it’s believed to be caused by certain chemicals being released in your body.

Also important to know? Caffeine won’t help a sinus headache.


“The pressure you feel with sinus-related headaches means you have a disequilibrium of pressure in the nasal sinuses,” explains Dr. Estemalik. “And that’s what causes a lot of these headaches and frontal pressure for people.”

Bottom line?

Headaches can cause pain and disrupt your life. You may just get the occasional headache, but if you have to deal with them more often than not, it can be frustrating.

And while the right amount of caffeine can be beneficial to managing your headaches, it shouldn’t be your only line of defense.

Dr. Estemalik says that if you have chronic headaches (defined as more than 15 days a month), then it’s time to talk to your healthcare provider about a preventive strategy to reduce the frequency of your headaches. They may recommend certain lifestyle changes, discuss triggers to avoid and prescribe an abortive and/or preventive medication.

“It’s important to have the right abortive medication for when you have a headache, and you really want it to work quickly so your headache doesn’t progress,” says Dr. Estemalik.

“But it’s also important to know that when it comes to over-the-counter medications or prescription triptans, the overconsumption of any of these medications (more than two to three times a week) can have adverse effects in increasing the amount of headaches, which is called a rebound or medication overuse headache.”

Don’t hesitate to talk to a healthcare provider. They can help you navigate the world of headaches and help find the right path to more headache-free days.

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