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Migraines, Headaches, and Caffeine

Caffeine can be both beneficial and harmful for a headache sufferer. It can serve as a treatment or, in some cases, can cause withdrawal or rebound headaches.

What Is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a commonly used drug that increases alertness, decreases fatigue, and improves muscle coordination. Though coffee comes to mind as the most common source of caffeine, it's also naturally found in tea and chocolate, and it is often added to soft drinks and non-prescription drugs like pain-relievers and cold remedies. People vary in their sensitivity to caffeine. If used excessively, caffeine can be too stimulating and cause anxiety, sleep problems, muscle twitching, or abdominal pain.

How Does Caffeine Treat Headaches?

Caffeine is a common ingredient in many prescription and over-the-counter headache medications (see list below). Caffeine additives make pain relievers 40% more effective in treating headaches. Caffeine also helps the body absorb headache drugs more quickly, bringing faster relief. By adding caffeine and, in turn, taking less medication, you can reduce the risk for potential side effects and possible drug addiction.

Common Over-the-Counter Drugs Containing Caffeine

  • Actamin Super: 65.4 mg
  • Anacin Maximum Strength: 32 mg
  • Anacin Tablets and Caplets: 32 mg
  • Aspirin-Free Excedrin Caplets: 65 mg
  • Bayer Select Maximum Strength Headache Pain Relief: 65.4 mg
  • Dristan Capsules: 16 mg
  • Excedrin Caplets: 65 mg
  • Excedrin Extra Strength Caplets and Tablets: 65 mg
  • Goody's Extra Strength Tablets: 16.25 mg
  • Goody's Headache Powder: 32.5 mg
  • Midol Menstrual Maximum Strength Caplets: 60 mg
  • Midol for Cramps Maximum Strength Caplets: 32.4 mg
  • NoDoz: 200 mg
  • Vanquish Caplets: 33 mg
  • Vivarin: 200 mg

Common Prescription Drugs Containing Caffeine

  • Cafergot Suppositories (Cafertrine, Cafetrate, Migergot, Wigraine): 100 mg
  • Cafergot Tablets (Ercaf, Ergo-Caff, Gotamine, Wigraine): 100 mg
  • Fiorinal Capsules and Tablets: 40 mg
  • Fiorinal with Codeine No. 3: 40 mg
  • Norgesic; Norphadrine: 30 mg
  • Norgesic Forte; Norphadrine Forte: 30 mg
  • Triaminicin with Codeine Tablets: 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 medications for the caffeine content. Or ask your doctor or pharmacist about the caffeine content of your medications.

Other Caffeine Sources


  • Chocolate milk, chocolate milkshakes, hot chocolate, and chocolate drinks
  • Cocoa mix, malt powder, chocolate flavoring
  • Cola and other sodas, like Mountain Dew or Surge (regular and diet)
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Chocolate or coffee liqueurs

Note: Caffeine-free and decaffeinated beverages also contain small amounts of caffeine.


  • All chocolate products including brownies, cake, and eclairs
  • Chocolate candy including fudge and chocolate-covered coconut,
    raisins, and peanuts
  • Chocolate-covered graham crackers (or chocolate-flavored graham crackers)
  • Chocolate ice cream or pudding

How Can I Prevent Caffeine Withdrawal?

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

Because of the risk of withdrawal, people should not take caffeine-containing pain relievers on a daily basis.

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