Do you get a headache after drinking red wine or mixed alcoholic drinks? It’s a widespread belief that red wine is a common culprit when it comes to headaches, and for those living with chronic headaches and migraines, you may find that it’s true. But why? 

How Common Are Headaches? 

Headaches are one of the most common health complaints in America today. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about one out of every six Americans suffers from some type of headache. In addition, the NINDS estimates that approximately 2 million people suffer from severe headaches each year. And, according to the American Migraine Foundation, more than 50 million Americans have migraine headaches.

The NINDS states that women are twice as likely as men to experience headaches. 

How frequently does the average person get a headache?

The NINDS reports that about 30 percent of adults will experience at least one headache on an average day. This number increases to about 60 percent during times of stress. 

What Causes Headaches?

There are many causes of headaches. Some are physiological, while others are psychological. Here are just a few:

Stress: A stressful event can cause your body to release chemicals called neurotransmitters. These chemicals affect your brain and nervous system. They can also trigger pain signals.

Sinuses: When cold air enters your sinuses through your nose, it triggers inflammation in your nasal passages. This can lead to pressure inside your head.

Tension: Anxiety, anger, fear, worry and other negative emotions can contribute to tension headaches.

Illness: An illness such as influenza or mononucleosis can cause headaches.

Fatigue: Headaches can be caused by sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, poor nutrition or emotional factors like depression.

Drugs: Certain drugs and stimulants, including aspirin, ibuprofen, caffeine, alcohol and over-the-counter medications, can increase the risk of getting headaches.

Medical Conditions: Medical conditions like high blood pressure, thyroid problems, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and cancer can also cause headaches.

Dietary Factors: What you eat and drink can affect your ability to function normally. For example, overeating sugar or salt can make you feel tired and irritable. Drinking too much coffee or soda can dehydrate you and leave you feeling sluggish.

Other Factors: Other factors include physical injury, hormonal changes, pregnancy and menstruation.

Alcohol: If alcohol is consumed too close to bedtime, it can negatively affect your sleep cycle. This can make it difficult to fall or stay asleep, which some people believe to be a trigger factor for headaches.

Why Does Alcohol Cause Headaches? 

When you consume alcohol, it widens your blood vessels, including the blood vessels in your brain, which increases blood flow to the head. This can cause a headache. 

Additionally, alcohol is a diuretic, so you may have to pee more frequently, leading to dehydration. Dehydration can also cause headaches. 

How Do I Know if My Headache Is Due to Alcohol?

If you think your headache might be due to drinking alcohol, try these steps:

1. Take note of when you last drank alcohol.

2. Try not to drink any alcohol for 12 hours, drinking only water.

3. Record your headache symptoms.

Red Wine and Headaches

Is there truth behind the common belief that red wine contributes to head pain? 

In the past, people thought that drinking red wine would help prevent heart disease. However, recent studies suggest that this isn’t true. 

Additionally, some believe that red wine contains compounds that could worsen headaches.

However, evidence suggests that red wine does contain substances that may reduce the severity of migraines. For example, one study found that women who regularly drank two glasses of red wine each night had fewer migraine attacks than women who didn’t drink wine.

Another study found that those with migraines who were given a glass of red wine daily reported less severe headaches than those who weren’t given wine.

What Are the Effects of Red Wine on Headaches?

The following are possible reasons why red wine may relieve headaches:

1. Red wine contains antioxidants, which may protect against free radicals. Free radicals damage cells and can cause headaches.

2. The flavonoids in red wine may act as anti-inflammatories. Inflammation is one of the causes of headaches.

3. Red wine contains resveratrol, an antioxidant compound that has been shown to improve memory and learning abilities. Resveratrol may also help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

4. Red wine contains polyphenols, which may lower cholesterol levels. Lowering cholesterol levels reduces the likelihood of having a stroke.

5. Some research indicates that red wine may help fight infections.

Alcohol and Migraines

While red wine may not definitively be linked to headaches, any type of alcohol can trigger migraines for some people. About half of all people with migraines report they get their first attack after consuming alcohol.

Some people experience a worsening of their migraines when they drink alcohol. 

If you do experience a migraine while drinking alcohol, try these tips:

1. Try to avoid drinking anything alcoholic and see if that has any effect on the frequency of your migraines.

2. If you’re feeling better after abstaining from alcohol, don’t go back to drinking.

3. If you need a change from drinking plain water, choose nonalcoholic drinks such as sparkling mineral water or club soda.

4. Avoid foods high in caffeine, such as coffee and chocolate. Caffeine can make migraines worse.

5. Eat small meals throughout the day instead of large ones. Eating smaller meals will keep your stomach full longer, which may help prevent migraines.

6. Take medications as directed by your doctor.

7. Get plenty of rest.

8. Don’t smoke cigarettes. Cigarettes increase blood pressure and stress hormones, both of which can contribute to migraines.

9. Exercise regularly. Regular exercise helps control blood sugar levels and improves sleep patterns. These factors can affect how well you respond to migraine treatments.

10. Stay away from bright lights. Exposure to light triggers migraines in many people.

Some migraine patients report their migraines come on a long time after drinking alcohol. This is known as a delayed alcohol-induced headache, or DAIH. This hangover headache appears when the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream reaches zero. The result is a migraine. 

We understand headaches and migraines. We can help identify your triggers and relieve your pain. Call us today. We’d love to talk.