Does Caffeine Help Migraines and Headaches? Excedrin and Caffeine
Find out how caffeine can help treat your headaches.
If you suffer from frequent headaches, then you understand how important it is to get quick relief. What you may not know is that some medications contain ingredients that help alleviate headache pain. One surprising ingredient that makes a big difference? Caffeine.1
Where Caffeine Comes From
Caffeine is found naturally in many plant sources, including coffee beans, tea leaves, and cocoa nuts.1 Widely used as a popular “pick-me-up,” the stimulant is consumed by approximately 85 percent of people in the US every day.2 It takes between 30 minutes and two hours to reach its full impact, and caffeine’s effects can be felt for an average of five hours.3, 4
How Caffeine Affects Your Body
Beyond boosting your energy, caffeine has important applications for pain relief as well. Research shows that caffeine could reduce pain by blocking certain receptors in the body and brain.5
Before a headache or migraine, the body’s blood vessels tend to enlarge.6 Caffeine causes vasoconstriction, which narrows the body’s blood vessels and restricts blood flow, aiding in pain relief.5, 6 Additionally, caffeine can make analgesics work more efficiently and increase your body’s absorption of pain-relieving medications like Excedrin®.1, 7
Why Some Forms Work Better
While caffeine does have pain-relieving effects, studies have found that caffeine alone cannot completely resolve headaches. However, when combined with other active ingredients in pain relievers, caffeine can provide an additional boost.1
Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as drinking coffee while taking a pain reliever. A standard cup of coffee may have as much as 134 mg of caffeine, but the concentration of the stimulant makes a big difference in how effective it is for headache relief.8, 9 Studies show that when caffeine is combined with acetaminophen and aspirin—the three ingredients of Excedrin® —it is more effective in relieving headache pain.8,9
Pain Relievers That Contain Caffeine
Three Excedrin products—Excedrin® Extra Strength, Excedrin® Migraine and Excedrin® Tension Headache —contain caffeine. These medications provide quick relief due to a combination of pain relievers and caffeine. Excedrin® Extra Strength may even provide relief in 15 minutes for some people.
Remember to discuss all medications you take for headache or migraine with your doctor, even when taking an over-the-counter product. Products should only be used as directed.
- Lipton, RB, Diener, H-C, Robbins, MS, et al. Caffeine in the management of patients with headache. The Journal of Headache and Pain. 2017;18(1):107-118.
- Mitchell DC, Knight CA, Hockenberry J, et al. Beverage caffeine intakes in the U.S. Food Chem Toxicol. 2014;63:136-142.
- PubChem, Caffeine (2015) Available at: http://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/summary/summary.cgi?q=all&cid=2519#. Accessed: March 27, 1018
- Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Military Nutrition Research. Caffeine for the Sustainment of Mental Task Performance: Formulations for Military Operations. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2001. 2, Pharmacology of Caffeine. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK223808/ Accessed: March 27, 2018
- Baratloo A, Rouhipour A, Forouzanfar MM, et al. The role of caffeine in pain management: a brief literature review. Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine. 2016;6(3):1-4.
- “Does Caffeine Trigger or Treat Headaches?” The National Headache Foundation, 24 July 2009, www.headaches.org/2009/07/24/does-caffeine-trigger-or-treat-headaches/.
- Echeverri D, Montes FR, Cabrera M. Caffeine’s vascular mechanisms of action. International Journal of Vascular Medicine. 2010:1-10.
- Tavares, Cristiane, and Rioko Kimiko Sakata. “Caffeine in the Treatment of Pain.” Rev Bras Anestesiol, 2012, pp. 387–401, http://www.scielo.br/pdf/rba/v62n3/en_v62n3a11.pdf
- Goldstein, Jerome, et al. “Acetaminophen, Aspirin, and Caffeine in Combination Versus Ibuprofen for Acute Migraine: Results From a Multicenter, Double-Blind, Randomized, Parallel-Group, Single-Dose, Placebo-Controlled Study.” Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, vol. 46, no. 3, 2006, pp. 444–453, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1526-4610.2006.00376.x