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How can coffee help treat migraine headaches?

Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
The simple notion that migraines are caused by the expansion of blood vessels (vasodilation) on the surface of the brain is, well, too simple. Migraines are complicated. Abnormal brain activity may precede vasodilation, but I think vasodilation is probably responsible for the painful part of the migraine attack. Caffeine tends to constrict blood vessels, which would seem to cause pain by cutting off blood flow. But mid-migraine, caffeine may relieve pain by returning enlarged and painfully distorted arteries back to their pain-free state.

Perhaps there's another explanation for caffeine's effect, but it's clear from experience that caffeine, especially in the form of coffee, helps many people with migraines. But there are individual differences —in migraine and in the response to caffeine. For some, caffeine triggers migraines.

If caffeine is pharmacologically complicated, that is true a hundred times over for coffee. Coffee is a stimulant for the brain and a diuretic. I have heard from patients with myasthenia gravis, a neurological disease with fluctuating levels of muscle fatigue, that a cup of coffee in the morning literally opens up their droopy eyes. Maybe it does that for some of the rest of us. And Paul Erdšs, the quirky Hungarian mathematician, defined a mathematician as "a machine for turning coffee into theorems." Notwithstanding the complexities of migraines and coffee, a temperate amount—say, one to three cups a day—can be an effective part of an anti-migraine program.
Harvard Medical School Headaches: Relieving and preventing migraine and other headaches

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Harvard Medical School Headaches: Relieving and preventing migraine and other headaches

Headaches inflict their misery in a variety of ways, from a dull, steady ache to a blinding, throbbing pain. Nearly everyone has them at least occasionally, but an unfortunate few experience...
Some people find that simply drinking a caffeinated beverage can ease their migraine headache. Caffeine causes blood vessels to narrow, which counters the blood vessel expansion that contributes to migraine pain.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.