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
  • Artifex 28

    The decalcification is something easily remedied with some dairy products. At least in Finland people quite often drink their coffee with milk as well. Well, sure that probably doesn’t absorb very well with the coffee – but generally normal healthy people will never see that as a problem with coffee.

  • Ed Stearns

    Such a small amount isn’t relevant and dairy products aren’t good for you either with the hormones. A cup of coffee occasionally is ok, caffeine is really a bad thing, esp since most people who use caffeine overindulge.
    Do we get withdrawal from fruits and vegetables? No, in fact where food isn’t fortified we can die from scurvy. If you have withdrawals from any substance, natural or artificial, IT ISN’T MEANT TO BE CONSUMED BY HUMANS.
    I realize you’re pandering for caffeine, but aside from your partial position, we would be better off w/o its consumption.

  • Artifex 28

    That just makes no sense.

    As said, hunger is technically a withdraw effect from all food. Thirst from dehydration.

    Your muscles are sore after a day or two if you encumber them for a good while. It’s not a bad thing, although it doesn’t “feel good”.

    Your body temperature increases above normal levels to fight infections and such. It’s not a bad thing, although it doesn’t “feel good”.

    Sure, those aren’t withdrawal effects, but after all it’s a similar physical symptom. Your body has an external stimuli causing something and after the stimuli is gone your body adapts. I’m pretty sure “not everyone” even get the headache.

    There’s also a direct health benefits to caffeine itself:

    https://www.caffeineinformer.com/top-10-caffeine-health-benefits

  • Ed Stearns

    1) hunger is technically a withdraw effect from all food

    AKA food deprivation, not withdrawal; that’s ludicrous. And when you say, “thechically” that means in a thechniocal sense, as in clinically. I think you mean in a metaphorical sense or in an abstract sense hunger might be termed a withdrawl from food. Here’s the technical sense: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hunger

    DEFINITION: an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach that is caused by the need for food

    See, need for food; we don’t need caffeine, in fact, we do much better without it.

    2) “Your muscles are sore after a day or two if you encumber them for a good while. It’s not a bad thing, although it doesn’t “feel good”.”

    What? Please, if you workout, it breaks down your muscle fibers for which protein rebuilds them; how does this have anything to do with caffeine withdrawal?

    3) “Your body temperature increases above normal levels to fight infections and such. It’s not a bad thing, although it doesn’t “feel good”.”

    OK, agreed, your body will thermally attempt to kill bacteria by raising the temp; again, how does this address caffeine intake/withdrawal?

    4) “Sure, those aren’t withdrawal effects, but after all it’s a similar physical symptom. Your body has an external stimuli causing something and after the stimuli is gone your body adapts.”

    Exactly, so it’s silly to even bring them in. OK, the body adapts to everything it can or dies, all organisms are that way, The external stimuli of working out, which is good for you, circulates blood, breaks muscles down, clears foreign particles from the body, stretches tendons/ligaments and all tissues; your body needs this to survive and if extremely sedentary you can die or parts can die from atrophy. Caffeine is an external foreign drug that is completely unnecessary life functions and causes harm with too much is intake.

  • Ed Stearns

    5) Your silly little site has some valid points, but also has this:

    – Caffeine is better than sleep when you need to be alert while driving.

    Yea, just pop some caffeine and drive all night, nevermind that family you kill on the road.

    – Caffeine can stimulate hair growth on balding men and women.

    I wish, I was a big caffeine user in my 30’s and went bald. What a desperate joke form the caffeine producers.

    – Caffeine may protect against Cataracts.

    Really? Caffeine also interferes with your SA and AV nodes, those are the things that make your heart go, thump-thump.

    – People who consume caffeine have a lower risk of suicide

    Really????? Who says?

    – Caffeine Reduces Kidney Stone Risk. In a large 217,883 person study, those that consumed caffeine from any source had less kidney stone formation than those that did not consume caffeine. The researchers believe that this is because caffeine makes urine more dilute

    This is a lie, “However, dehydration, among other, less common causes, can lead to the formation of stones. Different minerals in the body form kidney stones. The most common type of stone is primarily formed from calcium oxalate. Oxalate is found in caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, cola, and especially, tea”
    So even if it’s not the caffeine itself, it’s the drinks that caffeine is almost always associated with that cause the stones. Caffeine-related drinks ARE the culprit to kidney stones, stopping the intake of these drinks allows stones to dissipate and pass, I’ve had these situations.
    Ok, I get it, you like caffeine, great, I hope you enjoy it. It’s really not good for you and you do better without it.

  • Penelope

    Hi Wroots, it would be very helpful to refer to a list of the 60 (or so) plants your refer to. Any chance of you posting a link – it would be a very good reference to have. I, for one, would like to have the freedom to avoid them if I so choose. All the best. With thanks.

  • Ted

    we have a good list here of what to look for on labels. https://www.caffeineinformer.com/which-ingredients-contain-caffeine

    There may be 60, but not all of those are used in consumer products.

  • Ted

    All of those points were backed by and referenced by scientific studies.

  • Ed Stearns

    Ahhhhhh, studies show; 4 out of 5 dentists surveyed. Yea, I know, the caffeine industry backed them. Hmmmm, wonder why they didn’t address the SA or AV nodes in your heart? Yea, it wouldn’t shed positive light on the drug. I noticed you didn’t refute anything I wrote, just backed them with those elusive studies.

    Cops, DOT will tell you drinking coffee will just make you a wide awake hazard; drugs are not a replacement for sleep – that’s just irresponsible.

    Altho caffeine does increase blood circulation, it wont regrow your hair. Rogaine is a joke, caffeine is a bigger one for that.

    No studies on caffeine and osteoporosis? Here, since you and your industry wont be honest, I will: http://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/living-with-osteoporosis-7/diet-dangers?page=2

    “You lose about 6 milligrams of calcium for every 100 milligrams of caffeine ingested,” Massey says.

    Caffeine intake reduces suicide risk? Hilarious, so did the survey give bridge jumpers a coke and more times than not they came off that ledge?

    And worse than caffeine is the vehicle it comes in like sodas with aspartame, salt, carbonation, sugar, caramelization, et al.

    As for kidney stonbes, again, sodas are horrible at that, the salt creates these stones and you can say it’s not the caffeine but people usualy don’t just intake caffeiene, they associate it with coffee and soda: http://www.livestrong.com/article/501796-does-soda-cause-kidney-stones/

    So yea, soda is bad, caffeine is in soda. I don’t see how the caffeine offsets any stone production, sop then just take caffeine by itself, right?

    Caffeine can kill, even in moderate doses: https://www.caffeineinformer.com/a-real-life-death-by-caffeine

  • Penelope

    Thanks Ted but Wroots referred to “plants” not consumer products or processed foods (which your list informs). I am interested to know what ‘plants’ are natural sources of caffeine so I can make my own decision about eating them or not. Plants don’t come with labels!

  • Penelope

    PS, sorry but your list is of no use to me as I do not eat many processed foods.

  • Ted

    There are no “plants” in the supermarket that contain caffeine other than coffee beans or tea leaves, so you don’t have to worry about that.

  • Wroots

    Hi Penelope, My apologies for not responding sooner but I have been out of town. I have spent quite a bit of time searching on the Internet for a list of plants with caffeine content, but all I can find is the usual list of the most common 8-12 plants and various processed foods and drug items with caffeine content. I have come across information on naturally occurring caffeine in plants on government ministries’, health organizations’, and universities’ websites, all of which seem to refer to a different number ranging from 60 to 100+. It’s very frustrating because every one of the numbers they provide must have a plant name attached to it, otherwise it couldn’t be counted.

    I’ll keep looking and also ask a retired friend who was a senior botanist with the federal government, and let you know if I manage to track down a list.

  • Wroots

    One has to remember that the pros and cons of coffee are still being researched and debated. You speak as though it were already a black and white issue, and it most certainly is not. Research actually shows that caffeine (coffee) in moderation is good for health.
    How can you possibly say “most people who use caffeine overindulge”??? How would you know that?

    In all of this debate, it should not be forgotten that there are health pros as well as cons to drinking coffee.

    Danish research (ongoing): http://sciencenordic.com/report-pros-and-cons-coffee

    Harvard University studies: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/coffee/

    4. Is there any research that suggests coffee may have some beneficial health effects?

    Yes, research over the past few years suggests that coffee consumption may protect against type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver cancer, and liver cirrhosis. And our latest study on coffee and mortality found that people who regularly drank coffee actually had a somewhat lower risk of death from cardio-vascular disease than those who rarely drank coffee; this result needs to be confirmed in further studies,
    however. This is a pretty active area of research right now, and it’s not at the stage where we would say, “Start drinking coffee to increase your health
    even if you don’t like it.” But I think the evidence is good that for people in general—outside of a few populations, such as pregnant women, or people who
    have trouble controlling their blood pressure or blood sugar—coffee is one of the good, healthy beverage choices.

  • Wroots

    Whether or not there are 60 or 100 plants with caffeine, the fact remains that putting caffeine on the list of ingredients on consumer products is not mandatory so its absence means nothing. “Caffeine-free” is sometimes seen on products. Perhaps one can assume that the same or similar product made by a different company has caffeine in it if it does not carry a “caffeine-free” label.

  • Wroots

    But you DO have to be concerned about it if you are trying to avoid caffeine because it is added to many products that don’t look like plants. Caffeine is in colas and energy drinks, but they don’t exactly look like plants, do they? Ditto for cacao beans (plant) for making chocolate, cocoa, drinking chocolate, chocolate milk, chocolate puddings, yoghourt and ice cream, fudge, candies, Oreo biscuits, etc.

  • Ed Stearns

    Coffee has possible benefits in that it increases circulation for which I discovered when I quit it. L-Arginine fixes that and it’s a natural supplement with no adverse affects.

    We know caffeine creates problems with the two nodes in your heart called the SA and AV nodes. We know it can cause anxiety and a barrage of issues, it *might* have *some* positive side effects but we can also live w/o it. That’s like saying that marijuana might be medicinal, we also know it causes people to be very lazy so whatever positive side effects are offset with larger negative ones.

    “…this result needs to be confirmed in further studies…”

    Exactly, truth is that caffeine is a poison we can live w/o in spite of its very few possible positive side effects.

    “And our latest study on coffee and mortality…”
    Right, our last study, meaning you are part of the caffeine industry.
    Caffeine is not one of the good choices, most drinks caffeine is heavily present in are garbage, like sodas.

  • Wroots

    Imbibing excessive amounts of water can cause “water intoxication” which can result in death too. I’m reminded here of that saying, “all things in moderation and moderation in all things”.

  • Ed Stearns

    Right, if you intake so much that you are puking. This is why water is regulated on death row. So anyway, back to reality, enough of your abstract reasoning. Oh and say hi to your caffeine industry you represent. Caffeine is, by and large, poison. The drinks that carry caffeine are generally all poison.

  • Wroots

    Oh, don’t be so silly! Everything is a poison if it is ingested in excess. This is hardly abstract reasoning. Whatever it may be to you, it’s a darned sight better than accusing someone of being a representative of the caffeine industry just because his or her opinion is different to yours. That’s just plain childish. In any case, I find all this nitpicking over one substance the height of absurdity when you consider that every breath we take in cities is laden with poisons in vehicle emissions. This year WHO reported that in 2012 around 7 million people globally died as a result of outdoor air pollution exposure. How many died from a caffeine overdose, I wonder? You need to get some perspective.

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