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Caffeine Withdrawal Headaches

January 5, 2018

A listener asks: Why do I get a headache if I go without coffee?

Transcript

For regular caffeine users, going without the drug can rapidly backfire. (Pexels)

For regular caffeine users, going without the drug can rapidly backfire. (Pexels)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Why giving up coffee hurts. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Listener Monica Villa of Des Moines writes to ask why caffeine withdrawal triggers headaches. We turned to American University psychologist Laura Juliano, who says caffeine constricts blood vessels in the brain. Over time, the brain adjusts to people’s regular caffeine use by working extra hard to dilate those vessels.

LAURA JULIANO (American University):

But when they stop using caffeine, all of a sudden their body, which has been making these adjustments, now is continuing to make these adjustments because it doesn’t realize, in a sense, that caffeine isn’t going to be coming any time soon, and so that causes this very strong dilation of the blood vessels in the brain, and that can feel—does feel—like a very bad throbbing headache.

HIRSHON:

If a science question gives you a headache, call us at 1-800-why-isit. If we use it, you’ll win a Science Update mug. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Science Update staff