Health Topics

Caffeine and Headaches

Caffeine can be a double-edged sword for those with a headache: it can serve as a treatment or in some cases can cause withdrawal or a phenomenon known as “rebound” headache. The important thing to remember is that with education and moderation, caffeine can be one of the most effective treatments for headache.

Caffeine as a Headache Treatment

Caffeine is a common ingredient in many prescription and over-the-counter headache medications. Because analgesics work more quickly and more efficiently with caffeine, patients are able to take less medication. Caffeine additives make pain relievers 40 percent more effective. Caffeine also helps the body absorb medications more quickly, allowing the patient to feel relief sooner. By adding caffeine and, in turn, taking less medication, the patient reduces the risk for potential side effects and reduces the risk of habitual or addictive usage.

Common Over-the-Counter Drugs Containing Caffeine

Drug Name Caffeine Content
Anacin Maximum Strength 32 mg
Anacin Tablets and Caplets 32 mg
Aspirin-Free Excedrin Caplets 65 mg
Excedrin Extra Strength Caplets and Tablets 65 mg
Excedrin Migraine 65 mg
Goody's Extra Strength Tablets 16.25 mg
Goody's Headache Powder 32.50 mg
Midol Menstrual Maximum Strength Caplets 60 mg
NoDoz Maximum Strength 200 mg
Pain Reliever Plus Tablets 65 mg
Vanquish Caplets 33 mg
Vivarin 200 mg

Common Prescription Drugs Containing Caffeine

Drug Name Caffeine Content
Ergotamine/Caffeine Suppositories (Migergot) 100 mg
Ergotamine/Caffeine Tablets (Cafergot ) 100 mg
Fiorinal Capsules 40 mg
Fiorinal with Codeine Capsules 40 mg
Fioricet Tablets 40 mg
Orphenadrine Compound (Norgesic ) 30 mg
Orphenadrine Compound Forte (Norgesic Forte) 60 mg
Synalgos-DC 30 mg

Note: The drugs listed are some of the more common drugs containing caffeine; all drugs containing caffeine are not included. Always check the labels of over-the-counter drugs for the caffeine content. Or, ask your health care provider or pharmacist about the caffeine content of your medications.

Food as Caffeine Sources

  • Chocolate milk, chocolate milkshakes, hot chocolate and chocolate drinks.
  • Cola and other sodas. Caffeine-free and decaffeinated beverages also contain small amounts of caffeine.
  • Coffee.
  • Tea.
  • Chocolate products, including candy, brownies, ice cream, and cake.

Caffeine and Withdrawal

Caffeine withdrawal from normal caffeine usage is rare. However, with excess use, over 500 mg. daily (approximately 5 cups of coffee) over a long period of time, sudden cessation could cause symptoms of withdrawal. Patients can avoid caffeine withdrawal by limiting their daily consumption, being educated about sources of caffeine and by gradually decreasing the consumption rather than ending use abruptly.

Caffeine and Rebound Headaches

Rebound headache is a condition that develops from the overuse or misuse of any headache medication, including caffeine-containing medication. While caffeine-containing medications can be beneficial, these medications, combined with consuming caffeine (coffee, tea, soft drinks or chocolate) from other sources, makes you more vulnerable to a rebound headache.

Relief from rebound headache can only be accomplished by completely quitting all medication – however, this should only be done under the supervision of a physician.