Alcohol and Migraine: Does Drinking Trigger Headaches?

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There is lots of evidence to suggest that alcohol does not mix well with migraine. Whilst exact triggers are often hard to pin-down, alcohol does cause a number of bodily changes associated with causing headaches.

Firstly, alcohol is a diuretic – this means that it makes you go to the toilet more frequently. As a result, drinking alcohol makes you get rid of more water from your body. This can lead to dehydration. Dehydration is a well-known cause of headaches.

Furthermore, alcohol relaxes your blood vessels. This makes them dilate (i.e., become wider) which then increases blood flow to the brain. Increased blood-flow to the brain is another well-known cause of headaches. It is clear to see why many people report alcohol as a trigger of migraine attacks. Recognising these triggers, however, is important when it comes to making sensible lifestyle choices to help you mange your condition.

splashing drink with lemon and limes

The Types of Headaches Caused by Alcohol

If you experience a headache following alcohol consumption, it is likely to be one of two types of alcohol-induced migraine headaches:

  • When it comes to the first type of alcohol-related headache, the pain may begin between 30 minutes to 3 hours after drinking. These headaches don’t only appear after a heavy drinking session, however. Just a glass of wine or even a few sips of drink is enough to trigger this type of headache.
  • Delayed Alcohol-Induced Headache (DAIH) takes longer to set in than the previous type of alcohol headache, often only beginning when your blood alcohol levels return to normal (this is usually the following morning). Anyone is susceptible to this type of headache. However, if you have migraine, you are more likely to get this type of headache than someone who doesn’t have migraine (even if you drink less than them!).

Solutions to Manage Alcohol and Migraine:

  • Record alcohol intake in a migraine diary – Every time you drink, note exactly what and how much you drink. Building up this kind of record will enable you to work out patterns between triggers and migraine attacks which, in turn, will give you an idea of the preventative behaviours you need to take.
  • Drink alcohol sensibly and in moderation – Avoid excessive binge drinking. Not only will this reduce your likelihood of suffering alcohol-related headaches, but it will also have countless other benefits on your mental and physical health. If even small amounts of alcohol prove to be a trigger of your attacks, consider cutting out drinking altogether.
  • Eat food alongside alcohol – Combining alcoholic drinks with meals will both control the pace at which you consume alcohol and reduce the rate at which this alcohol is then absorbed into your blood.

Remembering to track your migraine attacks and noticing any potential triggers should help you to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle. If you enjoy alcohol (in moderation) and it doesn’t negatively impact your health, there is no reason that it shouldn’t form a part of this very lifestyle!

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