Caffeine for Migraines?

Posted by on Dec. 21, 2012

In the past five years, aspirin makers have added caffeine to their products in order to help migraine sufferers. Prior to this addition, physicians would often recommend to their patients that they take two aspirins with a cup of strong coffee. Such a combination has a physiological basis, but it also comes with some problems.

Caffeine competes with a molecule produced by the body, called adenosine. Because the caffeine molecule has a similar shape to adenosine, it is able to occupy nervous system receptors designated for adenosine. As a result, the sleep inducing effects of adenosine are reduced, as is blood vessel dilation. The resulting constriction of blood vessels reduces their swelling, which then lessens the impingement upon the nerve cells in the brain, and this reduces the pain in the head. In addition, caffeine increases dopamine production, which increases the sense of pleasure and may reduce some migraine discomfort.

On the other hand, many migraine sufferers experience nausea and vomiting with their headaches. One of the problems with consuming any medicine or drink during a migraine is that the patient might just vomit out the medication. In addition, during a migraine, the sense of smell is often enhanced, which means that the smell of coffee can exacerbate the nausea experienced.

Many migraine patients experience a visual aura for about 20 minutes before the headache begins. If the person is able to consume the caffeine enhanced-aspirin or the coffee and aspirin during that time, there’s a better chance that the body will absorb the medicine.

Enhanced aspirin is a good first line of defense for migraines as it is inexpensive and easily obtainable. If a headache sufferer finds that nausea counteracts the benefits, there are prescription alternatives that dissolve quickly on the tongue and are more easily absorbed in the body.


[Photo Credit: Jennie Faber on Flickr]

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