Caffeine Headaches (Causes and Remedies)

In brief, caffeine headaches happen when you overdose from the stimulant or if you’re going through caffeine withdrawal.

Caffeine can either treat or trigger headaches too! And if you love coffee, chances are you’ve experienced this kind of headache before which can be pretty bad if you don’t know some sort of remedy for it.

Some of the symptoms that you might notice include depleted mood, trouble concentrating, and most of all throbbing pain in the head!

That doesn’t sound good at all!

So, for this article, I’ll be exploring the causes of caffeine headaches and what you can do when you have one!

Let’s start off from the basics – what is caffeine?

What is Caffeine?

Caffeine is the most used psychoactive drug in the world!

Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance that is used as a stimulant or food additive. It’s not just found in coffee, but in chocolate, soda, and tea as well.

For most people, caffeine can give them the energy boost and mental focus needed to finish a specific task.

But you’ve got to be careful not to ingest too much to avoid overdosing or intoxication. Some of the symptoms of caffeine OD includes:

  • tremors
  • vomiting
  • headaches
  • chest pain
  • fast heartbeat
  • hallucinations

As a reminder, the US Food and Drug Administration set 400 mg as the limit for daily caffeine intake for healthy individuals. That said, exceeding this limit will most likely lead to the symptoms that I’ve just mentioned.

Caffeine also has various benefits but not all of them were confirmed by research yet. Some of the possible health benefits of caffeine include:

  • weight loss
  • enhanced brain function
  • boosts memory
  • lowers the risk of developing Alzheimer’s
  • lowers the risk of kidney stones
  • improved energy levels

Still, you shouldn’t overdo it to avoid the nasty awful symptoms of caffeine. And you should also learn to listen to your body’s reaction to caffeine to prevent over consumption.

Moving on, let’s talk about caffeine headaches!

What is Caffeine Headache?

Caffeine headaches occur when you consume high doses of caffeine or when you skip your regular daily dose.

If you have high caffeine tolerance, consuming cups of coffee in a day will probably not give you that throbbing headache. However, if you happen to be one of the unlucky ones with low tolerance, you’re certainly bound to suffer from caffeine headaches.

Let me explain:

Caffeine can give you headaches by narrowing the blood vessels in your brain. As it widens, the blood flow in the brain increases which can cause headaches. And as you get used to caffeine, cutting down your dose may cause withdrawal symptoms, a terrible headache is one of them.

Let’s learn more by looking at the symptoms, causes of caffeine headaches, and other nitty gritty details!

Let’s start with caffeine headache symptoms!

Caffeine Headache Symptoms

Apart from headache, here’s a quick rundown of caffeine headache symptoms:

  • fatigue
  • tremors
  • low energy
  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • poor concentration

Caffeine Headache Location

A caffeine-induced headache is usually located on the front or side of the head. Some people also feel a throbbing pain behind their eyes that eventually expands to the front of the head.

A throbbing pain behind the eye could be a sign of caffeine-induced headache.

To help you understand better, I have created this table for you.

Type of HeadacheLocationSymptomsTreatmentPrevention
Caffeine Headachebehind the eyes
front of the forehead
dizziness
nausea
vomiting
depressed mood
headache
Massage pressure point.
Drink water.
Take medication.
Consume zero to little caffeine.
Caffeine Headache, Location, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Causes of Caffeine Headaches

Apart from caffeine overdose, other causes of caffeine headaches are caffeine withdrawal, sensitivity, increased blood flow, and dehydration.

Note that caffeine affects people differently and you may not suffer from its nasty side effects despite exceeding the limit per day.

Let’s take a closer look at the causes of caffeine headaches.

Caffeine Withdrawal

In simpler terms, caffeine withdrawal occurs when you gave up caffeine.

Taking away caffeine from your daily diet can result in various symptoms such as headaches, crankiness, and total discomfort.

Research indicates that about half of the people who consume more than 200 mg of caffeine a day will develop headaches if they abruptly stop. Other studies also posit that caffeine withdrawal can cause anxiety and depression.

Caffeine has this much of an effect on you because it interferes with adenosine molecules, which help regulate different neurotransmitters and acts as a homeostatic regulator of sleep.

If you take your morning coffee out of the routine abruptly, your neurotransmitter levels will dramatically fluctuate and start your caffeine withdrawal.

Since caffeine molecules look very similar to adenosine molecules, caffeine can bind to the same receptors and block their function.

Blood Flow

Caffeine also causes blood vessels in your brain to constrict and consequently slows your blood flow by as much as 27%.

The narrowing of vessels can cause your blood pressure to go up, your mental concentration to go down, and your headaches to increase.

If you start to notice that you’re having a hard time concentrating even after drinking coffee, now might be a good time to cut caffeine out of your diet.

Caffeine Overdose

Caffeine overdose is usually the result of taking too much caffeine tablets rather than drinking coffee.

While caffeine overdose rarely spells grave danger for the drinker, it can cause gastrointestinal problems, restlessness, arrhythmia, and many more.

Do be careful of caffeine powder, in particular, as it packs a really strong punch that can send your system into overdrive.

Keep in mind not to go beyond 400 mg of caffeine per day to avoid caffeine overdose.

Dehydration

Caffeinated drinks can cause you to urinate more and speed up dehydration symptoms.

Your brain shrinks due to dehydration and results in a pounding headache.

I’ve often found that drinking sugary caffeinated drinks really do make me feel parched afterward.

It’s good to keep in mind that you should always drink water after consuming caffeine!

Caffeine Sensitivity

Caffeine sensitivity is described as an extreme adrenaline rush after consuming a caffeinated beverage.

You may feel like you had six cups of coffee even if you only had a few sips. The sudden kick that you felt despite the small amount of caffeine ingested is known as caffeine sensitivity.

But that’s not always the case as some people metabolize caffeine quickly.

Symptoms of caffeine sensitivity includes:

  • jitters
  • insomnia
  • headache
  • nervousness
  • fast heartbeat
  • anxiousness

There is no specific test for caffeine sensitivity, but if you do feel these effects after coming into contact with caffeine, it is advised that you limit your caffeine consumption.

Watch this short clip to learn more about caffeine and headache.

WATCH AND LEARN: The connection between caffeine and headache.

Can Caffeine Trigger Migraines?

Yes and no. In most cases, caffeine is not the sole underlying cause of chronic headaches like migraines. But drinking three cups of coffee a day can also trigger migraines, as claimed by a Harvard University study.

Three cups of coffee per day raise the risk of migraines by 40% while five cups raise the risk by 161%.

Some people who suffer from migraines also tend to use caffeine-containing medications, which according to the American Migraine Foundation can lead to caffeine dependency and medication-overuse headache.

When Do Caffeine Headaches Go Away?

Caffeine headaches can last two to nine days but this can depend on your caffeine tolerance and how you address the headache.

Also, you’re likely to suffer from caffeine headaches within 12 to 24 hours after consuming your last caffeinated beverage. But the headache may be resolved after 48 hours.

If the headache becomes more persistent, I highly suggest seeing your doctor as soon as possible. It might be a symptom of another medical condition.

Caffeine Headache Treatments

Based on experience, the fastest way to get rid of caffeine headaches is to apply an ice pack on your forehead and take some over-the-counter pills to relieve the pain.

This trick works well on me. I hope it works for you too!

Read on to learn more tricks on how to relieve caffeine headaches!

Switch to Decaf

Switching to decaf is a great way to curb excessive caffeine consumption.

Decaffeinated beverages are recommended for pregnant women, people with caffeine-restricted diets, and those who suffer from anxiety or insomnia.

While it may not have that caffeine boost, decaf also has the same antioxidants and nutrients found in regular coffee!

For me, decaf is perfect for days when I’m already too keyed up but still want the cozy comfort that coffee brings.

Reduce Caffeine Intake

For those who have quite the caffeine dependency, slow and steady wins the race. You don’t need to quit coffee right then and there; in fact, it is recommended that you cut back by 10% increments every couple of weeks.

This will allow your system to slowly get used to caffeine withdrawal without triggering the symptoms.

Coffee cup on table
Finding the right balance in your coffee intake is key to preventing caffeine headaches.

Stay Hydrated!

Drink lots of water and remain hydrated to prevent a caffeine-induced headache.

Liquids can be ingested orally or intravenously in order to alleviate symptoms of caffeine withdrawal or overdose.

You can’t go wrong with the relief that water brings when you have a massive headache. Sometimes all it takes is a glass of cold water and a good night’s rest, and then you’re brand new in the morning.

Apply Peppermint Oil

Applying peppermint oil on the forehead or back of the neck can relax the muscles around your skull.

Personally, peppermint oil is one of my favorites. I like it diffused, add to a warm cup of tea, or mixed with massage oil.

I’ve even tried steaming peppermint oil when I had a bad case of the flu once, and let me tell you, it does wonders!

Take Dietary Supplements

Research has found that certain herbal supplements like riboflavin and butterbur can treat or prevent headaches when taken over a long period of time.

However, there are some concerns regarding their side effects, so consult with your physician first before taking these supplements.

Final Thoughts

Caffeine is undeniably beneficial but too much of it can cause headaches and bring detrimental effects to your overall health.

It affects people differently due to various factors such as age, gender, health condition, and level of physical activity.

Headaches are the common symptoms of caffeine-related conditions such as caffeine OD, caffeine sensitivity, caffeine withdrawal, and so on.

The throbbing headaches could last for hours and days. However, there are remedies to it such as taking some pain reliever for headache, essential oils and drinking lots of water to help flush the caffeine out of your system.

That said, you shouldn’t overindulge even if you love the taste and smell of coffee!

Cheerio!

Matt Marshall

As I learn more and more about coffee and coffee products I want to share all my learnings with you here on this website. I hope you find my articles useful and entertaining to read.

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