Caffeine and Pain


Caffeine is a stimulant often found in teas, coffees, chocolates, and colas. Caffeine mainly works in the brain and increases blood adrenaline levels. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that approximately 80% of Americans consume some form of caffeine every day. It is a central nervous system stimulant that has no nutritional value and has both positive and negative affects on the body. Most healthy adults can safely consume 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine a day, which is roughly the equivalent of four cups of brewed coffee.

Caffeine is a popular ingredient in many pain relievers. It is well known to help with all types of headaches and often boosts the effectiveness of headache medications, making them as much as 40% more effective. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen act faster and manage pain longer when combined with caffeine because caffeine helps them enter the bloodstream quicker. Some pain reliever contain caffeine.

Although caffeine intake helps relieve headaches by narrowing the blood vessels surrounding the brain, ceasing caffeine intake causes them to expand again causing pain. Combining caffeine with pain relievers to treat a headache may work faster but can also cause worsened rebound headaches as the pain-relieving affects subside. Furthermore, consuming the same amount of caffeine daily can cause tolerance to its effects.

Caffeine is associated with many health benefits. It reduces inflammation in the body. Thirty-two or more ounces of caffeinated coffee decrease the risk of oral or throat cancer. Caffeine can also ease muscle pain associated with exercising and often enhances athletic performance. Although more research is needed, it has been known to help with terminal cancer pain. Caffeinated coffee is associated with a decreased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and dementia, and it is also associated with a decreased risk of suicide. Furthermore, some studies claim that two to four cups of coffee per day reduces the risk of liver cancer by 64% and colorectal cancer risk by 38%. Four or more cups of coffee per day reduces the risks of skin cancer by 20%. Drinking coffee daily lower the risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) by up to 30%. Drinking four cups of coffee per day also reduces the risk of developing gout by 40% in men and 57% in women.

Although caffeine offers many benefits, too much caffeine intake can cause confusion, irritability, rapid heartbeat, heartburn, increased blood pressure, fertility and pregnancy issues, nausea or vomiting, stomach pain, acid reflux, anxiety, restlessness, tremors, diarrhea, and increased bladder inconsistency. Caffeine also reduces the absorption of calcium in the bones which can increase the risk of osteoporosis. Furthermore, although rare, an overdose of caffeine is possible.

Caffeine is addictive, and too much can actually cause headaches and can interact with certain medications. Discussion of any concerns about caffeine and medications should be discussed with a health care provider or pharmacist.