Anatomy of a Caffeine Headache: Causes, Remedies, Prevention

A caffeine headache has been experienced by just about anyone who consumes caffeine on a regular basis.

headache causes

This caffeine-induced headache usually starts behind the eyes and then works its way up the front of the forehead as it further develops, becoming quite debilitating.

For some, this can trigger a migraine, but for most people a caffeine headache is moderately painful and varies in severity depending on the cause.

Top 5 Causes of a Caffeine Headache

  1. Caffeine withdrawal
  2. Varied caffeine consumption
  3. Caffeine overdose
  4. Caffeine sensitivity
  5. Caffeine allergy

The number one cause of a caffeine headache is caffeine withdrawal.

Even a small decline (50-100mg) in the amount of caffeine a person usually consumes can result in a mild headache.

People who miss their daily dose, consume less than their average, or who are detoxing from caffeine will most likely experience this type of headache.

Headaches can be quite severe for those that quit caffeine cold turkey. Here’s how to quit without the horrible headaches.

People who consume caffeine in a hit or miss fashion tend to have more caffeine-induced headaches than those that have the same amount every day.

Also, for those that consume too much caffeine in a short amount of time often experience a headache as a common caffeine overdose symptom.

Finally, those who are ultra-sensitive to the caffeine molecule or who have an “allergic-like” reaction to the substance, can also experience a headache. However, this type of caffeine headache the least common.

Never have a caffeine headache again! Get help breaking your addiction here.
caffeine-headache

How to Remedy an Aching Head

The best remedy for a caffeine withdrawal headache is to consume more caffeine.

As soon as a person begins to feel a tightness behind the eyes, he/she should evaluate their recent caffeine consumption and then consume an adequate amount of caffeine to stop the withdrawal.

Pain relievers such as Excedrin also include caffeine and can remedy the caffeine withdrawal headache faster since they also have added pain relievers.

For those that are purposely detoxing from caffeine or for those that have consumed too much caffeine, we recommend the following.

  • Take pain relievers like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin, and naproxen. (use only as directed)
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Avoid medications, beverages, and foods with added caffeine.
  • Sleep.
  • Follow a step-by-step detoxing plan.

Most of the time a caffeine headache will peak in severity and then gradually get better as the body adjusts to having no caffeine.

I find that most of the time pain killers dull the pain and a good night sleep takes care of the rest.

Note: For those that had a moderate to severe addiction to caffeine, the headache could last for several days, but is usually worse the first 24 hour period without caffeine.

how to avoid a caffeine headache

The 2 Best Methods of Prevention

For those that want to prevent a caffeine headache, there are basically two ways to keep a caffeine headache from developing.

  1. Consume about the same amount of caffeine every day. – Don’t vary consumption by any more than about 50mg each and every day, even on the weekends.
  2. Consume zero to very little caffeine– Eliminate caffeine from the diet completely. Usually, people who have very small amounts, such as what’s in a serving of dark chocolate, won’t experience any problems with developing a caffeine induced headache.

By understanding how a caffeine headache develops, how to remedy it, and how to prevent it; this type of headache doesn’t have to be an issue for most people.

Being aware of the caffeine content of your favorite products as well as being mindful of how much you have consumed are your best defenses against getting caffeine-induced headaches.

Helpful Tools

1. Our caffeine content database can help people keep track of their caffeine consumption and be aware of how much caffeine they are consuming daily by drinking their favorite beverages.

2. Download a caffeine-tracking app. This smartphone application allows users to easily track their daily caffeine consumption.

3. Our Guide to Quitting Caffeine provides a step-by-step plan to quit or cut back on caffeine without all the painful withdrawal symptoms such as headaches.

Get Help Quitting Caffeine

Reduce your caffeine intake without pain and discomfort.

See our new 10-step plan
  • sam

    I have recently tried to cut out coffee, first by swapping out coffee for green tea and then tapering down to zero – I could get to one or two teas a day but any less I would get very bad migraine-like headaches – however I found a recommendation to try an amino acid DLPA (D,L – Phenylalanine) supplement – and this seemed to work! 2x 500mg tabs before breakfast 2x before lunch and has stopped the headaches almost immediately! so pleased. was hard to find in local pharmacy but easy to track down online – good luck!

  • Billy

    Why is it the best remedy is to take more caffeine? If someone is experiencing heroin withdrawal, do you tell them to take more heroin? I hate the ridiculous double standard, just because caffeine is culturally acceptable that means you can just be addicted to it 24/7 for life and everything will be ok if you just take your daily dose. Jesus Christ. Caffeine is a drug just like any other and those experiencing withdrawal symptoms to such an extent that it gives them debilitating headaches (me) should not be told to just to take more caffeine. That is beyond ridiculous. Thanks for the help retard website.

  • Ted

    Caffeine is not in the same class of drugs as heroine. Consuming caffeine through coffee daily 300-400mg is considered safe and not associated with any adverse health effects. Therefore the advice for someone who accidentally missed their usual coffee or tea to consume caffeine is a valid way to end the headache. people are trying to quit caffeine intentionally will have to work through the pain differently.

  • Lauren k

    Here is what works for caffeine withdrawal headache:
    ICE WATER not only to DRINK but ice on the head and shoulders because when
    I stopped caffeine so suddenly out of necessity, I got a BAD headache. The
    caffeine normally dialates the blood vessels in the head and restricts large blood flow, so I had to
    substitute this with basically freezing my head. It helped a lot.
    Do this for 1 to 2
    hours:
    Head wrapped in ice packs and on top and drinking freezing cold water
    constantly.

  • Comparing caffeine with heroin is a bit of a stretch…

  • Mary

    He obviously wasn’t being literal there Stevie. His point is true.

  • Importance

    I agree with Billy! It is serious and you go through withdrawal and experience mood swings just like some one addicted to a more difficult substance. Addiction is addiction no matter how you cut that pie!

  • Penelope

    I totally agree Billy. Having given up caffeine cold turkey I was determined not to have a cup just to get rid of the headache. I just let the withdrawal symptoms take their course and came out the other end feeling much better for it.

  • Artifex 28

    Comparing caffeine and heroin is just stupid.
    Coffee is actually a health beneficial drink while heroin certainly isn’t.
    While you’ll get the headache, it’s easy to know what causes it and even how to avoid it (by drinking coffee).

  • Jen

    I really don’t think anything thats good for you should cause any sort of withdrawal symptoms. Blueberries are a great source of antioxidants but I don’t get a headache when I give them up. Same with broccoli, carrots, salmon, etc.

  • Paul

    Well, we technically withdraw from all food… that’s what “hunger” is.

  • John

    Caffeine is a drug just like any other, is it?

    What a ridiculous argument.

  • Artifex 28

    None of the fruits contain caffeic acid (Xanthium, herb technically excluded). Also, none of the listed has chlorogenic acid either. These are two of the main ‘health beneficial’ components of coffee that are currently known.

    Antioxidants aren’t always good either. Nothing is that black & white.

    http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/antioxidants-can-make-cancers-worse

  • Mark

    I think that drinking more caffeine was a way to relieve headache. an honest answer. I’d look for a topic on treating caffeine addiction if that is what you desire.

  • Wroots

    I consume a couple of cups of cafe latte a day. I make it with roughly 1/8th breakfast mug of expresso and 7/8ths mug of boiling milk. Twice a year on average, I am woken up at around 5:00 am by a massive headache. The headaches occur so rarely that I forget the “remedy” of drinking a cup of coffee. I try ice and painkillers, but it doesn’t help at all. After suffering for four hours with my forehead feeling as though it’s being drilled into and about to crack open, I suddenly remember coffee, stagger downstairs, make a latte, and the headache is gone within 10 minutes.

    I find myself wondering why I only get a “caffeine headache” twice a year. Could it be that a number of factors are involved here, such as caffeine plus other things in the diet in combination with each other? I also wonder why I can go on vacation for three weeks, drink no coffee at all, and not experience any symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.

    There is a body of research that indicates that coffee in moderation is beneficial for health. I think the bottom line for me is that I would rather experience two headaches a year that can be easily remedied with a latte than give up coffee altogether. 🙂

  • Wroots

    Caffeine is found naturally in the leaves, seeds, and fruits of more than 60 plants, and it is also found in processed foods. US law does not require caffeine to be listed as an ingredient. In other words, even if you give up coffee you could still be consuming caffeine. Chocolate anyone?

    Coffee – 100 mg per cup
    Tea – 14 mg to 60 mg per cup
    Chocolate – 45 mg in 1.5 oz. bar
    Most colas (unless labelled “caffeine-free”) – 45 mg in 12 oz. drink
    Candies, energy drinks, snacks, gum – 40 – 100 mg per serving

    Caffeine is often added to over-the-counter medications such as pain relievers, over-the-counter diet pills, and cold medicines – but you won’t find it listed on the labels!

  • Ed Stearns

    Addictions have a commonality, heroin or caffeine. Detox is detox. Coffee has SOME benefits but the caffeine still is thought to be responsible for decalcifying your bones and other aspects. It increases circulation, true, but it has derogatory drawback and many people cant seem to moderate it.

  • Ed Stearns

    Decalcification of bones is pretty black/white, esp for older women. People will defend anything that gives them a little, “wiggle.”
    As for caffeine’s benefits with circulation, natural herbs like L-Arginine do quite well too with no side effects.

  • Ed Stearns

    Big time, it really is a caustic drug.

  • Ed Stearns

    Don’t tell that to the caffeine tweekers who hit 5 large energy drinks per day, they are total junkies. Hell, people are even dying from doing caffeine powder; caffeine is or next drug issue.

Last Modified: June 14, 2017

References

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  • Smith, R. (1987). Caffeine withdrawal headache. Journal of clinical pharmacy and therapeutics, 12(1), 53-57. link
  • Kendler, K. S., & Prescott, C. A. (2014). Caffeine intake, tolerance, and withdrawal in women: a population-based twin study. link
  • Shapiro, R. E. (2008). Caffeine and headaches. Current pain and headache reports, 12(4), 311-315. link