What To Drink For a Headache

The fluids you should drink and avoid when you have a headache

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When you are burdened by a headache, you may wonder what you should and should not drink to help get rid of it. Maybe you crave a quick solution and hope a cup of coffee or a tall glass of water will ease your pain. 

Let's review the "yes, no, and maybes" of what fluids to reach for when you get a headache.

Water

While a dehydration headache is not classified on its own by the International Headache Society, water deprivation is reported as a headache trigger.

Typically, water alleviates the pain, usually within the first thirty minutes, according to a study in Headache.

Likewise, not drinking enough water has been linked to tension-type headaches and migraines.

So, in a pinch, consider drinking a tall glass of water for your head pain. It might just help.

On a final note, it's best to choose water over sugary sodas or juices. If you are bored by plain old water, consider squeezing a lemon or lime into it for flavor or indulging in a flavored sparkling water.

If you are hungry,  grab a healthy snack (for example, a protein bar or granola bar) along with your glass of water. Fasting and skipping meals are common headache and migraine triggers, so filling up your stomach with nutritious foods (instead of sugary drinks) may also help.

Alcohol

While alcohol has been reported to be a trigger for people with tension-type headaches, it's more commonly associated with migraines and cluster headaches.

The International Headache Society has classified an alcohol-induced headache on its own, dividing it into two categories:

A classic alcohol-induced headache is often located on both sides of the head and has a throbbing quality like that of a migraine.

Certainly, if alcohol can cause a headache on its own, then you want to avoid it if you are already suffering from head pain.

Moreover, alcohol has a diuretic effect, meaning it causes you to have urinate more—hence, you lose more water (and dehydration is a headache trigger, not a headache helper).

Caffeine

Many wonder whether they should drink or not drink that cup of steaming joe when they have a headache. Unfortunately, the answer is not as cut and dry as one would think—in other words, caffeine presents a paradoxical dilemma in headache management.

This is because while caffeine is commonly used in the treatment of tension-type headaches and migraines, daily caffeine consumption has been linked to both chronic migraines and rebound headaches. Additionally, missing your morning cup of coffee can lead to a caffeine withdrawal headache.

So, should you drink that extra cup of coffee when plagued by a headache? It may be worth a try, but you should be wary of the fact that while caffeine may abort your headache in the short-term, it may actually worsen your headache disorder in the long term.

Energy Drinks

Energy drinks contain some sort of stimulant, most often caffeine; so the same conundrum about drinking an energy drink for headache relief exists as it does for drinking a cup of coffee.

Even more, though, energy drinks contain sugar (as well as other ingredients), and research suggests that consumption of energy drinks in children and adolescents is linked to certain physical side effects like headaches or stomach aches.

A Word From Verywell

The big picture here is to take charge of your headache health. Question your habits. Are you drinking too much caffeine? Are you substituting soda for water? Do not be overly critical of yourself, but small changes can have huge impacts on both your quality of life and daily functioning.

Sources:

Kabagambe EK, & Wellons MF. Benefits and risks of caffeine and caffeinated beverages. In: UpToDate, Basow DS(Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA, 2013.

Panconesi A, Franchini M, Bartolozzi ML, Mugnai S, & Guidi L. Alcoholic drinks as triggers in primary headaches. Pain Med 2013;14(8):1254-9.

Torelli P, & Manzoni GC. Fasting headache. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2010 Aug;14(4):284-91

Visram S, Cheetham M, Riby DM, Crossley SJ, Lake AA. Consumption of energy drinks by children and young people: a rapid review examining evidence of physical effects and consumer attitudes. BMJ Open. 2016 Oct 8;6(10):e010380.

Wober C, & Wober-Bingol C. Triggers of migraine and tension-type headache. Handb Clin Neurol. 2010;97:161-72.