CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 · J Neurosci Rural Pract 2016; 07(02): 269-275
DOI: 10.4103/0976-3147.178654
Review Article
Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice

Alcohol-induced headaches: Evidence for a central mechanism?

Alessandro Panconesi
Department of Neurology, Headache Center, San Giuseppe Hospital, Empoli, FI, Italy
› Author Affiliations
Further Information

Publication History

Publication Date:
25 September 2019 (online)


Alcoholic drinks (ADs) have been reported as a migraine trigger in about one-third of the migraine patients in retrospective studies. Some studies found that ADs trigger also other primary headaches. The studies concerning the role of ADs in triggering various types of primary headaches published after the International Headache Society classification criteria of 1988 were reviewed, and the pathophysiological mechanisms were discussed. Many studies show that ADs are a trigger of migraine without aura (MO), migraine with aura (MA), cluster headache (CH), and tension-type headache (TH). While data on MO and CH are well delineated, those in MA and TH are discordant. There are sparse reports that ADs are also triggers of less frequent types of primary headache such as familial hemiplegic migraine, hemicrania continua, and paroxysmal hemicrania. However, in some countries, the occurrence of alcohol as headache trigger is negligible, perhaps determined by alcohol habits. The frequency estimates vary widely based on the study approach and population. In fact, prospective studies report a limited importance of ADs as migraine trigger. If ADs are capable of triggering practically all primary headaches, they should act at a common pathogenetic level. The mechanisms of alcohol-provoking headache were discussed in relationship to the principal pathogenetic theories of primary headaches. The conclusion was that vasodilatation is hardly compatible with ADs trigger activity of all primary headaches and a common pathogenetic mechanism at cortical, or more likely at subcortical/brainstem, level is more plausible.

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