The Link Between Alcohol And Migraine


Is there a link between alcohol and migraine attacks?

For many of us living with migraine, we must consider if alcohol consumption will “trigger” a migraine attack. Our relationship with alcohol feels like it’s “on the rocks”. So what is the link between alcohol and migraine?

Past studies conducted in different countries report that one-third of migraine sufferers believe alcohol consumption is an occasional migraine attack trigger. Those studies revealed that 10% of persons with migraine reported alcohol as a frequent trigger for a migraine attack. It is important to note that gender did not influence the outcome of these studies as male and female participants reported comparable results.

The relationship between alcohol and migraine isn’t clear because alcoholic beverages also contain ingredients such as phenylethylamine, tyramine, histamine, flavonoid phenols, and sulfites. Many of these same components are found in higher concentrations in our favorite foods.

These substances, though common in foods and alcoholic beverages are not proven to trigger a migraine attack alone. Even though many different alcoholic beverages contain these same components, and there is a reported link between drinking alcohol; and migraine attacks, the link between these
specific ingredients and migraine attacks is not substantiated through positive studies. There is, however, a logical relevance between dehydration as a migraine attack trigger and alcohol contributing to dehydration.

How does alcohol cause dehydration?

Alcohol is a diuretic. A diuretic is any substance that increases diuresis or the excretion of
urine. Alcoholic beverages contain a natural diuretic called ethanol. Ethanol can do two
things in the body, it can function as a vasodilator, and when taken in excess, it can cause
chemical imbalances in the body by causing the body to excrete minerals, vitamins, and
much-needed salt. Eventually, this event will lead to dehydration. The byproducts of
alcohol fermented in the body are called congeners and may also trigger migraine attacks. Congeners give alcohol its unique flavor, and they can alter chemicals in the body, leading to migraine attacks and the hangover effect.

The difference between a hangover and a migraine attack

It’s helpful to know what is the difference between a hangover and a migraine attack. A hangover headache is a headache that usually appears the next morning after consuming alcoholic beverages. This kind of headache is marked by a delayed onset and is referred to as a delayed alcohol-induced headache (DAIH). This type of headache can happen to anyone, but migraine patients are more prone and with smaller amounts of alcohol consumed.

A migraine attack is also the “acute phase” of migraine attack and is accompanied by other symptoms, such as light/sound sensitivity,

An alcohol-induced migraine attack can happen in as little as 30 minutes after consuming an alcoholic beverage, and those that suffer from cluster headaches (about 50-80%), are more likely to experience alcohol as a migraine attack trigger.

How does alcohol “trigger” a migraine attack?

Ethanol, various congeners, and histamine contained in alcohol and alcoholic processes
in the body are all thought to function as triggers for migraine attacks. Histamine
intolerance headaches have been linked to migraine; however, they are not completely
representative of migraine attack because many of the other symptoms associated with
histamine intolerance headaches do not fit the Migraine profile. Vasodilation brought on
by alcohol consumption could explain the quick onset of headache that happens within
30 minutes to 3 hours of drinking alcoholic beverages but does not explain the delayed
onset headache type. It is difficult to say definitively that alcohol consumption is a direct
trigger for migraine attack. The link between alcohol and Migraine, though evident,
cannot be pinned down to one contributing factor or one single cause. While there may be
no single part of an alcoholic beverage responsible for triggering a migraine attack there
are many associations made between alcohol and Migraine to consider before you have a

Is it ok to drink if you suffer from migraine?

Only, you can answer that question. It is important to know what triggers a migraine
attack for you, so that you can make an informed decision.

One thing for sure: You should not be taking medication, such as Excedrin Migraine, with alcohol.

Tracking Migraine activity is vitally important to understanding migraine. You could record pertinent details like the type of drink you had, the time between consuming it, and the onset of migraine attack.
You could also use your tracker to help you understand what types of drinks bring on the
strongest reactions. It may be that for you there is not a strong link between alcohol and
Migraine. When it comes to making decisions about alcohol and migraine, whatever you
decide to do, always do what is best for you!

Download Migraine Buddy now!

(This article is contributed by Melisa Snowden-Fortner, one of our amazing #MBvolunteers!)

Jenny from Migraine Buddy

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