Does caffeine alleviate headache pain?

Whether you suffer from recurring headaches or more advanced migraines, there's a good chance that you've take a look at over-the-counter pain relievers for headaches. But, maybe you've also noticed something else on the ingredient list: caffeine.
Since it's often associated with withdrawal headaches from coffee and other related drinks, it seems like an odd addition to common pain relievers.

How caffeine affects pain relievers

We get our caffeine intake from a variety of sources, including coffee, soda, tea or chocolate. But, when this popular stimulant is paired with traditional over-the-counter pain relievers, it has a tangible effect on their efficacy.

Studies on pain relief

The Cochrane Library conducted a group study of 19 different pain reliever studies with more than 7,200 participants. These studies analyzed medications including acetaminophen and ibuprofen. They compared equal dosages of medications by themselves vs. the same dose of medication with added caffeine. Researchers found between 5-10 percent of participants rated their pain relief as "good" or "excellent" when caffeine was included. Non-caffeine group experienced "moderate to good" pain relief.

Numerous studies show that pain relievers with caffeine can be more effective than their counterparts. But, researchers struggle to explain why this is the case. Some researchers believe that caffeine assists drugs like acetaminophen and ibuprofen in entering the bloodstream more quickly. Some researchers believe that the stimulant has a mood-boosting effect that could increase the efficacy of pain relievers.

How much is too much?

Excessive caffeine use can lead to stomach issues, acid reflux and other problems. It's vital that you keep your caffeine intake to a minimum. Physicians advise that 300 milligrams per day is safe, which equates to about three 8-oz. cups of coffee. Headache sufferers should pay particular attention to these levels in their pain medications to avoid excess.

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