A spinal headache is caused by a leak of the fluid that surrounds the central nervous system – the brain and spinal cord. While many headaches go away with time, caffeine can improve spinal headache symptoms and increase spinal fluid pressure. Before using caffeine to treat a spinal headache, be sure to consult your doctor.
What is a Spinal Headache?
Cerebrospinal fluid is the special fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. Its pressure is maintained at a certain level, which helps keep the components of the central nervous system safe. If the pressure drops, however, a spinal headache may occur. According to the Johns Hopkins Neurology and Neurosurgery team, when the brain sits too low in the skull, the nerves around it may become overstretched. There are several ways in which cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF, pressure can be decreased. It can happen when there is a leak somewhere in the system, which may occur after a needle is inserted into the protective layers around the spinal cord. This happens during a spinal tap or an epidural; however, even a micro-tear in the nervous system’s protective layers can cause CSF pressure to change. Johns Hopkins reports that while they are less common, traumatic tears can happen after something as minor as a sneeze.
How Caffeine Helps
Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, which means it makes blood vessels contract. According to Cleveland Clinic, when caffeine causes vasoconstriction, it can increase the pressure of the CSF. This may relieve symptoms caused by a micro-tear or a lumbar puncture; however, symptoms may return if the site of leakage is not repaired. During the expected healing time, some people are asked to remain on bed rest to allow time for the hole or tear to close.
Forms of Caffeine
The treatment for spinal headaches generally starts conservatively, according to MayoClinic.com. During this time, a person may be asked to increase his fluid intake, and to incorporate caffeinated beverages. Some people may skip the coffee and take caffeine pills for their spinal headache. Caffeine does not cure the headache, it simply relieves symptoms while healing takes place. According to MayoClinic.com, if no improvement is noted within 24 hours, more aggressive treatments are in order. In addition to saline injections, a person may be given caffeine intravenously.
While the main cause of spinal headaches – injections into the spinal space – take place in a health care environment such as a doctor’s office or hospital, MayoClinic.com reports that symptoms may not appear until 12 to 24 hours after a leak begins. Yours may not even appear this quickly: According to Cleveland Clinic, some spinal headaches may begin as late as five days after the procedure. You may be home by this time. If you notice a sudden headache within a few days of your procedure, talk to your doctor about your treatment options. He may let you try caffeine on your own at home, or you may have to return for further testing. In some cases, a scan may be necessary to find the site of the leak.