How A Cup Of Coffee Could Ease Your Headache

Study Shows How Potent It Can Be When Combined With Painkillers

Oct 14, 2000 -- Caffeine addicts have something to cheer about -- a large cup of coffee or strong tea taken with a painkiller will not only help the medicine down, but could provide an even faster cure for a headache, according to scientists. 

Doctors at the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago, Illinois, have found that the common painkiller, ibuprofen, is more active against tension headaches when combined with caffeine. The research was sponsored by Procter and Gamble, the multinational drugs and chemicals company, but they have decided against going ahead with producing a combination drug for commercial reasons. 

'They may have had a problem in patenting the idea,' says Dr Seymour Diamond, director of the clinic. 'There are already a number of aspirin and paracetamol products combined with caffeine. But that is not a problem for us, we just recommend that people with tension headache take their ibuprofen with a large cup of coffee.' 

The drug was tested by Dr Diamond and colleagues on 301 patients attending the Chicago clinic because of tension headaches. Patients taking an ibuprofen/caffeine combination obtained more effective and quicker relief of their headache than for those patients who took ibuprofen alone. Eighty per cent of those taking the drug combination found an improvement in their condition over a period of six hours, compared with 67 per cent on ibuprofen alone and 51 per cent on caffeine alone. 

However, Dr Diamond warns: 'We only recommend taking ibuprofen with coffee to those people who have intermittent tension headache, not to people who have daily or almost daily headache. And we do not recommend the caffeine combination for people who suffer from migraine.' 

Tension headaches affect both sides of the head and are band-like in nature whereas migraine tends to be a more severe headache, generally on one side of the head and throbbing, often shooting down into the jaw and accompanied by an 'aura' -- visual disturbances. It is also associated with nausea and vomiting. 

'Our most fascinating finding is that coffee alone is as effective as ibuprofen for the first hour and a half of a headache. After that, the ibuprofen is needed to maintain the benefit,' says Dr Diamond. 

Caffeine is known to be a weak stimulant, which is thought to reduce headaches by increasing a person's sense of well being, although these alerting and mild-habit forming effects may not always be desirable. 

Ironically, it is also widely believed that coffee itself can cause headaches, especially if taken in large amounts. But scientific evidence for this is lacking says Dr Timothy Steiner, a consultant in neurosciences at Charing Cross Hospital who has made a special study of so-called weekend headaches. 

Dr Steiner explains: 'People who drink a lot of coffee or tea may suffer a withdrawal headache if they stop having their usual drink of coffee or tea for any reason. We found that people who suffered tension headache or migraine often had a high caffeine consumption during the week and then slept in on Saturday morning. They woke up with a raging headache because they had not had their usual early morning dose of caffeine.' 

'The way to be certain of avoiding headache is to do the same things everyday and not to vary your life at all. No excessive stimulation -- no headache. But not everyone is prepared or able to alter their lifestyle,' says Dr Steiner. 'People need to look at their lifestyle and see how they are prepared to change it. For example, you could drink less coffee during the week and more at the weekend

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