Migraines are extremely intense headaches which can also result in vision problems, dizziness and nausea. The exact cause of migraines is unknown, though they are thought to be the result of abnormal brain activity.[1]

But one theory behind migraines is that they can be caused by excessive drinking. We’re going to take a closer look at this theory.

Can alcohol cause migraines?

Although there is not enough evidence to conclusively state that drinking alcohol causes migraines, there is reason enough to find a link between the two.

Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning you expel more fluid when you take it in, often referred to as ‘breaking the seal’. Losing fluid from your body can lead to dehydration, which is another known migraine trigger. What’s more, drinking alcohol relaxes the blood vessels, which causes increased blood flow to the brain and can make migraines more likely to occur.[2]

One 2014 study studied two groups — migraine sufferers and non-sufferers — after a night of drinking. They found that participants who suffered from migraines experienced a higher tendency of migraine-like symptoms, but no difference in other hangover symptoms compared to non-sufferers.[3]

What’s more, population-based studies in various countries such as Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and the US have consistently found that fewer migraine sufferers consume alcohol than those without headaches. This is most likely explained as migraine sufferers giving up alcohol because it is triggering headaches.[4]

Alcohol as a migraine trigger

Of all alcoholic drinks, red wine is often cited as the biggest migraine trigger. Studies have shown that the odds of a person naming red wine as a migraine trigger are over three times greater than the odds of naming beer.[5]

Research does show that red wine could cause issues for people with certain sensitivities. For example, red wine contains 20-200 times the amount of histamine as white wine. Migraines can be a symptom of histamine intolerance, so people with this allergy may experience migraines as a result of drinking.

Red wine can also cause a rise in the level of serotonin in the blood, which has been linked to migraine headaches.[6]

Alcohol is also a well-known trigger of cluster headaches — a similar phenomenon to migraines characterised by pain on one side of the head. Those with a cluster headache are advised to avoid drinking alcohol until the episode has completely passed.[7]

How to reduce the severity and frequency of your migraines

Outside of alcohol, there are many other factors which have been known to trigger migraines in sufferers. These can be emotional, physical, dietary or environmental, and include:

Stress and anxiety

Dehydration

Caffeine

Bright lights

Smoking

Skipping meals

Tension

Lack of sleep[8]

Addressing these problem areas can help to alleviate the intensity and frequency of your migraines. Staying hydrated, getting plenty of sleep, eating regular healthy meals and getting enough fresh air and natural light are just some of the ways people manage their migraine symptoms.[9]

Migraine medication like Sumatriptan can also be useful in reducing migraine symptoms. In fact, clinical studies showed that migraine intensity dropped by 79% in participants given 8mg of Sumatriptan, compared to just 25% in those given the placebo drug.[10]

Safe and effective migraine treatment is available from Express Pharmacy. Speak to one of our expert pharmacists today by calling 0208 123 07 03 or by using our discreet Live Chat service.

[1] NHS UK. Migraine. 2019

[2] Panconesi, A. MD. Alcohol and migraine: trigger factor, consumption mechanisms. A review. The Journal of Headache and Pain. 2008

[3] Zlotnik, Y. et al. Alcohol consumption and hangover patterns among migraine sufferers. Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice. 2014.

[4] Panconesi, A. MD. Alcohol and Migraine. American Migraine Foundation. 2016

[5] Mathew, PG. MD, FAAN, FAHS. Alcohol and headaches. Harvard Health Publishing. 2018.

[6] Panconesi. 2008

[7] The Migraine Trust. Cluster Headache. 2019

[8] NHS UK. Migraine Causes. 2019.

[9] The Migraine Trust. Coping and managing. 2019

[10] The Subcutaneous Sumatriptan International Study Group. Treatment of Migraine Attacks with Sumatriptan. The New England Journal of Medicine. 1991.