Alcohol & Migraine

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Many people who suffer from migraines have come to the realisation that alcohol has been a contributing cause to their migraines. Among the common foods which could trigger migraines, 15% of Migraine Buddy users have recorded chocolate as a trigger. Following that, 7% have also recorded caffeine as a trigger. Similar to chocolate, the same percentage (15%) of users recorded alcohol as a trigger too. (Read more about common foods which trigger migraines, click here.) 

Furthermore, alcohol is diuretic and has been said to be one of the causes for dehydration, a vital contributing factor in headaches. Another reason could be the added sugars certain alcohol beverages contain. Certain chemicals such as tyramine and histamine present in alcohol are believed to kick off a series of events in the brain leading to migraine attacks.

Alcohol consumption and onset of headache interval 

A new study from the Ledien University Medical Center in the Netherlands explored the relationship booze has on migraines and results have shown that the two do not go harmoniously with one another. Based on the 2,197 patient study in the European Journal of Neurology, 35.6% of the participants reported that alcoholic drinks were a trigger for them. 

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Among those, it was stated that red wine (77.8% of participants) was recognised as the most common alcoholic trigger. However, red wine only resulted in attacks in 8.8% of participants and for a third of the patients, the onset was rapid (<3 hours). Close to 90% of patients had an onset under 10 hours, independent of the different types of alcohol consumed. A French study on the other hand showed that 54% of alcohol induced attacks came from the post-consumption of white wine

How are we to know then since alcohol is in the picture the difference between a migraine and a pounding hangover? According to the American Migraine Foundation, alcohol can provoke 2 types of headaches in migraine patients, namely an attack “within a few hours and a delayed hangover headache”. A typical headache induced by alcohol is said to be a triggered migraine attack within a few hours (30mins-3hours). 

Delayed alcohol induced headache usually happens the next morning following alcohol intake. This can be experienced by anyone but is said to be more susceptible to people with migraines. Dr Gisela Terwindt suggests that “alcohol triggered migraine occurs immediately after alcohol intake, which suggests a different mechanism from your regular hangover. 

However, it is still very difficult to make a direct link between alcohol consumption and the onset of a migraine. It is important to note that a possible link between other frequent triggers such as stress, anxiety, weather changes, etc should be considered as determining factors too. The uncertainty whether “alcohol is a factual or presumed trigger” still leaves room for more research to be done to determine if alcohol is truly to blame for someone’s migraine or if there are other elements at play. 

Recording and understanding your triggers

Nonetheless, if you have your suspicions that alcohol consumption might be behind your attacks, it might not be a bad idea to cut back a little or entirely opt out of it for the time being, or at least until you identify what exactly triggers your migraines. If you’re still unaware if alcohol is one of your triggers, a good tip would be to start tracking your migraines and its possible triggers.

To each individual, migraines and triggers are usually very unique. What affects you may not be the case for someone else. Many migraine sufferers have found that keeping a log helps them to easily identify their triggers and understand the patterns of their migraines better. Download the Migraine Buddy app here to help make your recording process a breeze! 

Is alcohol a trigger for you? What are some of the other foods you identify as your migraine triggers?

Emily Neo