Caffeine Headache – Symptoms, Causes, and Management

Caffeine headache is a typical headache reported in people who consume excessive amounts of caffeine every day. Missing their cup of coffee at the usual time might trigger an episode. Their brain gets used to the coffee, thus, resulting in withdrawal symptoms including a headache that is typically felt on both sides of the head like a migraine, the pain beginning behind the eyes, moving on to the forehead, and further into the rest of the head.

Symptoms of caffeine headache

Severe pain is accompanied by some withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Irritability
  • Low mood and low energy levels
  • General lethargy
  • Lack of concentration
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Constipation
  • Tremors (in severe cases)
  • Arrhythmias
  • May develop into chronic daily headache

What does caffeine headache feel like?

Caffeine headache is usually moderate to severe in the intensity of pain that is felt on both sides of your head. Most people develop withdrawal symptoms within 12 to 24 hours of the last cup of coffee with peak symptoms lasting for about two days and slowly taper off in nine days.

What causes a Caffeine Headache?

Caffeine generally constricts the blood vessels of your brain. However, once its effects fade off, the blood vessels tend to dilate, boosting blood flow towards the brain and cause a headache.

What causes withdrawal symptoms?

Caffeine binds with adenosine receptors in the brain blocking the dopamine which normally binds with the receptors resulting in excessive dopamine (the feel-good hormone) that is responsible for lifting the mood.

Increased adenosine signals to the adrenal gland cause more release of adrenaline that is responsible for the feeling of alertness.

As the caffeine intake increases the brain increases the number of adenosine receptors. Thus, developing tolerance against the number of caffeine molecules. This means that with time more and more caffeine would be required to create the same amount of alertness.

So when a person skips or decreases the amount of their usual caffeine intake, the amount of dopamine fails to cope with excess adenosine receptors. Hence, creating an imbalance between adrenaline and dopamine levels and cause withdrawal symptoms.

Can caffeine itself be the cause of the headache?

Caffeine is a diuretic, it makes you urinate more than usual, in the end resulting in dehydration. This often causes headaches which are pounding in character. Several studies also suggested that people who consume 2 to 3 cups of caffeinated beverages per day have more migraine episodes than others, sometimes also resulting in a chronic headache condition.

Normal caffeine intake

Recommended caffeine intake is 400 milligrams of caffeine per day for an adult. If someone drinks more than 400 mg of coffee in a day, he is most likely to face withdrawal symptoms.

Management of caffeine headache

There can be possible modes of management:

  • Medicinal treatment
  • Reduction of caffeine dependency
  • Dietary supplements

Medicinal Treatment:

  • Over-the-counter analgesics: to help with the pain
  • Over-the-counter pain killers, containing caffeine: Excedrin

Reduction of caffeine dependency:

  • Simply getting some rest can relieve the headache
  • Apply topical peppermint oil
  • Acupressure and acupuncture are found to ease the tensed muscles
  • Cold compresses can also relieve tension and pain due to headaches by reducing inflammation
  • Drink a lot of fluids to combat dehydration

Dietary supplements:

These supplements can help with the treatment of the headache, overtime if consumed regularly:

  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin B12
  • Butterbur

Coping with the withdrawal symptoms

Gradually taper off caffeine intake:

A drastic change in caffeine intake can cause damage to the brain and has a major effect on the quality of life of the patient.

Getting enough sleep:

A proper sleeping schedule can also reduce physical dependence on caffeine.

Using other caffeine replacements:

  • Try replacing a few cups of your coffee with chocolate and caffeine-containing beverages
  • Decaffeinated coffee can be used in the beginning to help with tapering off


  • Staying hydrated keeps you alert and most of the time you would not have to depend on caffeine to get rid of fatigue
  • Try stress-reduction techniques like yoga and meditation

When to consult a doctor?

If the headaches keep coming back even after you’ve limited your caffeine intake, these may suggest a deeper problem that requires prescription medication and proper treatment. You should see a doctor as soon as possible.


How much coffee can I have in a day?

On average you can have 400 milligrams of coffee in a day.

What replacements can I have for coffee, while I tapper it off?

You can try replacing a few cups of your coffee with chocolate or some other caffeine-containing beverages. Also, you can try taking decaffeinated coffee a few times.

How long does a Caffeine withdrawal Headache last?

This can develop a few hours after you miss your regular dose of caffeine and might linger on for 2 to 9 days.

How do I distinguish the withdrawal symptoms of caffeine?

The symptoms would start developing a few hours after you miss your regular dose of caffeine and would subside if you take coffee or any other caffeinated product.

Last medically reviewed on August 3, 2021.