Can alcohol cause migraines?
If you suffer from migraines, you may find that drinking can trigger an episode. Find out why alcoholic drinks can cause problems for migraine sufferers and what you can do to help yourself.
A migraine is generally more painful and lasts longer than an ordinary headache. Some migraine sufferers find their vision is disturbed when they get a migraine – they may see spots or wiggly lines. Nausea (a feeling that you might vomit) and sensitivity to bright light are also widely reported migraine symptoms.
Alcohol is a diuretic – it acts on your kidneys to make you pee more fluid than you’re taking in. Losing fluid from your body like this can lead to dehydration, which can cause headaches. So if you’re prone to migraines, you might get one if you drink to excess. Drinking alcohol also relaxes your blood vessels, leading to increased blood flow to the brain. This can also cause headaches, including migraines if you’re susceptible to them1.
These potential migraine triggers can be found in any alcoholic drink. But there are also ingredients in specific drinks that are particularly associated with migraines.
Most people find that any alcoholic drink can cause a migraine, but others may find that particular drinks are more of a problem for them.
Many people believe that red wine is a migraine trigger for them, and there is some scientific evidence to suggest that ingredients in red wine could cause issues for people with certain sensitivities or intolerances2.
For example, some people have an intolerance to histamine, which is contained in red wine and can be associated with migraines. Red wine can contain 20 – 200 times the amount of histamine as white wine.
Red wine can also cause a rise in the level of serotonin (5-HT) in the blood3, which has been linked to migraine headaches. Sulphites are often blamed for causing headaches too, although in fact, white wine contains higher levels of sulphites than red wine.
Migraines and their triggers are very individual – what affects one person may cause no problems for the next. Many migraine sufferers find that keeping a diary helps them identify their own personal triggers and understand their patterns of migraines better.
If you want to try keeping a diary, you may wish to record what food you’ve eaten and how much caffeine you’ve drunk, as well as any alcoholic drinks, as these are all things which can be linked to migraines. Stress can play a big part in migraines4, so you might notice you’re more prone to getting one after a difficult week at work, and for women, your period could also be a factor.
The UK Chief Medical Officers’ low risk drinking guidelines are designed to help all adults keep the health risks from drinking alcohol to a low level. However, some migraine sufferers may find even small amounts of certain drinks cause problems for them, so if that’s you, it’s probably best to avoid alcohol drinks altogether. Studies have shown that migraine sufferers may suffer migraine symptoms even at low levels of drinking5.
 J. Jarman, K. Pattichis, R. Peatfiled, V. Glover & M. Sandler (1996) "Red wine-induced release of [C-14]5-hydroxytryptamine from platelets of migraine patients and controls." Cephalalgia 16: 41-43