Caffeine Headache Symptoms
Caffeine is one of the most widely used mood altering drugs and is reportedly consumed regularly by 80 to 90 percent of North Americans, according to an article published in the September 2008 issue of the journal "Psychopharmacology." Although caffeine is generally safe and well tolerated, it can cause side effects when ingested in large doses. Additionally, regular caffeine use can cause dependency, resulting in withdrawal symptoms when caffeine is not consumed. Headaches can be a symptom of either too much caffeine or too little.
Too Much Caffeine
Caffeine acts as a stimulant on the nervous system and interferes with the action of a neurotransmitter in the brain called adenosine, explains the University of Washington Neuroscience for Kids. Caffeine induces numerous effects on the body, including stimulating the brain, increasing the heart rate and constricting blood vessels. One possible side effect of these changes is a headache. Higher doses of caffeine are more likely to cause a headache or other side effects. People who routinely drink 240 mg of coffee each day, equivalent to four or five 8-oz. cups, have a 30 percent increased risk of headache compared to people who do not ingest caffeine, according to a paper published in the June 1985 issue of the "International Journal of Epidemiology."
- Caffeine acts as a stimulant on the nervous system and interferes with the action of a neurotransmitter in the brain called adenosine, explains the University of Washington Neuroscience for Kids.
- cups, have a 30 percent increased risk of headache compared to people who do not ingest caffeine, according to a paper published in the June 1985 issue of the "International Journal of Epidemiology."
How Caffeine Affects the Nervous System
Regular consumption of caffeine can lead to physical dependence on the drug. When a person who is dependent on caffeine does not ingest their usual amount of caffeine, withdrawal symptoms can occur, usually between six and forty three hours after the last intake of caffeine, reports the paper published in "Psychopharmacology." The withdrawal symptoms typically last for two to nine days. Research suggests that consuming as little as 100 milligrams of caffeine for only three days can lead to dependency, although people who regularly consume larger amounts of caffeine often experience more severe withdrawal symptoms. Once withdrawal symptoms have started, ingesting as little as 25 mg of caffeine is often enough to reduce symptoms.
- Regular consumption of caffeine can lead to physical dependence on the drug.
- Once withdrawal symptoms have started, ingesting as little as 25 mg of caffeine is often enough to reduce symptoms.
Causes of Heahache During Withdrawal
Research theorize that headaches caused by caffeine withdrawal may relate to the ability of caffeine to interfere with the neurotransmitter adenosine. Dependence occurs because the body becomes attempts to compensate for the constant presence of caffeine by becoming more sensitive to adenosine, explains the article published in Psychopharmacology. One effect of adenosine is to widen blood vessels, particularly in the brain. When caffeine is withdrawn, it is no longer able to dampen the activity of adenosine, which causes increased widening of blood vessels and increased blood flow in the brain, leading to headaches and other symptoms.
- Research theorize that headaches caused by caffeine withdrawal may relate to the ability of caffeine to interfere with the neurotransmitter adenosine.
- When caffeine is withdrawn, it is no longer able to dampen the activity of adenosine, which causes increased widening of blood vessels and increased blood flow in the brain, leading to headaches and other symptoms.
Additional Symptoms of Withdrawal
Weight Loss With Caffeine & Aspirin
The increased blood flow to the head that occurs during caffeine withdrawal causes several other effects, including reduced energy, fatigue, difficultly concentrating and drowsiness. Depression, discontentedness and irritability have also been reported. Severe caffeine withdrawal can even cause flu-like symptoms, including nausea, vomiting and muscles aches and pains. Some individuals have reported becoming completely incapacitated and unable to work because of caffeine withdrawal.
- The increased blood flow to the head that occurs during caffeine withdrawal causes several other effects, including reduced energy, fatigue, difficultly concentrating and drowsiness.
How Caffeine Affects the Nervous System
Weight Loss With Caffeine & Aspirin
Can Excess Caffeine Cause Rashes?
Nitric Oxide & Caffeine
Why Does Caffeine Give Me a Headache?
Does Cocoa Butter Contain Caffeine?
Congestive Heart Failure & Caffeine
The Harmful Effects of Caffeine on Teenagers
Taurine, Guarana & Ginseng Effects
How Caffeine Affects the Immune System
- Psychopharmacology: Fourteen Well-Described Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms Factor into Three Clusters
- University of Washington Neuroscience for Kids: Effects of Caffeine on the Nervous System
- International Journal of Epidemiology: A Study of Caffeine Consumption and Symptoms; Indigestion, Palpitations, Tremor, Headache and Insomnia
- Sajadi-Ernazarova KR, Hamilton RJ. Caffeine, Withdrawal. Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing. Updated July 30, 2019.
- Juliano LM, Huntley ED, Harrell PT, Westerman AT. Development of the Caffeine Withdrawal Symptom Questionnaire: Caffeine withdrawal symptoms cluster into 7 factors. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2012;124(3):229-234. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2012.01.009
- Juliano LM, Griffiths RR. A critical review of caffeine withdrawal: empirical validation of symptoms and signs, incidence, severity, and associated features. Psychopharmacology. 2004;176(1):1-29. doi:10.1007/s00213-004-2000-x
- 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
- Satel S. Is caffeine addictive?--a review of the literature. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2006;32(4):493-502. doi:10.1080/00952990600918965
- Addicott MA. Caffeine Use Disorder: A Review of the Evidence and Future Implications. Curr Addict Rep. 2014;1(3):186-192. doi:10.1007/s40429-014-0024-9
- Diamond S, Franklin MA. The Fasting Headache. National Headache Foundation. 2018.
- Da Silva AN, Lake AE. Clinical Aspects of Medication Overuse Headaches. Headachexx. 2014;54(1):211-217. doi:10.1111/head.12223
- World Health Organization. Atlas of Headache Disorders and Resources in the World 2011.
- 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
- American Migraine Foundation. Caffeine and Migraine. 2017.
- United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Tea, hot, leaf, black. FoodData Central. 2019.
- Sweeney MM, Meredith SE, Juliano LM, Evatt DP, Griffiths RR. A randomized controlled trial of a manual-only treatment for reduction and cessation of problematic caffeine use. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2019;195:45-51. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2018.10.034
- American Migraine Foundation. Understanding Caffeine Headaches. 2017.
- Lee MJ, Choi HA, Choi H, et al. Caffeine discontinuation improves acute migraine treatment: a prospective clinic-based study. J Headache Pain. 2016;17:71. doi:10.1186/s10194-016-0662-5
- Bigal ME, Sheftell FD, Rapoport AM, et al. Chronic daily headache: identification of factors associated with induction and transformation. Headache. 2002;42(7):575-81.
- Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society (IHS). The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition (beta version). Cephalalgia. 2013 Jul;33(9):629-808. doi: 10.1177/0333102413485658.
- Sigmon SC, Herning RI, Better W, et al. Caffeine withdrawal, acute effects, tolerance, and absence of net beneficial effects of chronic administration: cerebral blood flow velocity, quantitative EEG, and subjective effects. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2009;204(4):573-85. doi: 10.1007/s00213-009-1489-4.
Matthew Busse has pursued professional health and science writing since 2007, writing for national publications including "Science Magazine," "New Scientist" and "The Scientist." Busse holds a doctorate in molecular biology from the University of California-San Diego.