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How long do caffeine withdrawal headaches last?

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Dec 17, 2020.

Official Answer

by Drugs.com

Quitting caffeine can cause headaches. Caffeine withdrawal headaches can start within 12 hours of stopping caffeine and are likely to be at their worst 20-51 hours after your last caffeine fix. They can last up to 9 days.

Caffeine is a natural stimulant found commonly in coffee, tea, chocolate, some sodas and energy drinks. The consumption of caffeine can have a negative impact on your overall health and mental wellbeing, which is why it can be beneficial to cut down or quit.

Trying to break the habit of consuming too much caffeine can bring on a number of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms including headaches, fatigue, irritability, depressed mood and more.

What is a caffeine withdrawal headache?

Headaches are the most common and dominant symptom of caffeine withdrawal, occurring in about 50% of people trying to quit caffeine.

When caffeine is consumed it is absorbed into the bloodstream and crosses the blood-brain barrier where it blocks the adenosine receptors and prevents drowsiness..

Caffeine consumption also affects the blood vessels and the rate of blood flow in the brain. Consuming caffeine can significantly decrease the rate of blood flow in certain blood vessels in the brain within half an hour, with flow rates returning to normal after about two hours.

Withdrawing caffeine can cause blood flow rates to temporarily increase in certain blood vessels in the brain and this is thought to contribute to the development of headaches when trying to quit caffeine.

Where is a caffeine withdrawal headache located?

A caffeine withdrawal headache can present as a feeling of pain and pressure that pushes outwards from the brain. Starting behind the eyes, it can move up to the front of the head. Caffeine withdrawal headaches can also present with migraine-like symptoms and as a widespread feeling of throbbing pain.

How can I treat a caffeine withdrawal headache?

  • Gradually reduce your consumption of caffeine instead of stopping suddenly. This can help to reduce the severity of your withdrawal symptoms, although it may take longer for them to go away completely completely. Reduce how much caffeine you have each day over two to three weeks or longer if needed. Put a plan in place to help you stay on track.
  • Headaches can be treated with over the counter medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil) and aspirin. Remember to avoid medications that contain caffeine.
  • Rest and get plenty of sleep.
  • Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated.
References
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  2. Wolde, Tsedeke. Effects of caffeine on health and nutrition: A Review. January 2014. Vol. 30 https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Tsedeke_Wolde/publication/279923885_Effects_of_caffeine_on_health_and_nutrition_A_Review/links/559e5bd808ae04e365097a28/Effects-of-caffeine-on-health-and-nutrition-A-Review.pdf
  3. W. Revelle, D.M. Condon, J. Wilt. Caffeine. Editor(s): V.S. Ramachandran. Encyclopedia of Human Behavior (Second Edition). Academic Press, 2012, Pages 423-429. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-375000-6.00078-1
  4. Sajadi-Ernazarova KR, Anderson J, Dhakal A, et al. Caffeine Withdrawal. [Updated 2020 Nov 10]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430790/
  5. Lipton, R.B., Diener, HC., Robbins, M.S. et al. Caffeine in the management of patients with headache. J Headache Pain 18, 107 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s10194-017-0806-2 
  6. Alstadhaug KB, Andreou AP. Caffeine and Primary (Migraine) Headaches-Friend or Foe?. Front Neurol. 2019;10:1275. Published 2019 Dec 3. doi:10.3389/fneur.2019.01275
  7. Shapiro RE. Caffeine and headaches. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2008;12(4):311-315. doi:10.1007/s11916-008-0052-z 
  8. Couturier EG, Laman DM, van Duijn MA, van Duijn H. Influence of caffeine and caffeine withdrawal on headache and cerebral blood flow velocities. Cephalalgia. 1997;17(3):188-190. doi:10.1046/j.1468-2982.1997.1703188.x 
  9. Sandy Fritz, Leon Chaitow, Glenn M. Hymel. Clinical Massage in the Healthcare Setting. Common Categories of Illness and Injury and the Clinical Reasoning Process, chapter 17. Mosby, 2008. Pages 594-666. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-032303996-3.50025-8
  10. Caffeine informer. Caffeine withdrawal symptoms: top fifteen. Available at: https://www.caffeineinformer.com/caffeine-withdrawal-symptoms-top-ten [Accessed 17 December 2020]

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