For Post-Surgery Headache, Try A Cup Of Coffee

ST. PAUL, Minn. - If you develop a headache after your next operation, don't blame your doctors, say researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Have a cup of coffee instead.

Puzzled that a number of surgery patients complained of headaches that sometimes delayed their discharge, Mayo researchers have determined the problem often is nothing more than lack of caffeine.

They now recommend that most patients recovering from surgery be served drinks containing caffeine.

"We anticipate that it will reduce the incidence of headache and, if one is developing, make it disappear," said Dr. Mark Ereth, a Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist and participant in the study.

Most Americans consume caffeine, either in coffee, tea or colas. But when scheduled for surgery, they are told not to drink or eat anything the morning of the operation.

By the time many of these patients recover from the anesthetic, the researchers say in a study published in this month's issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, they are suffering the classic caffeine-withdrawal symptom: a dull, frontal headache.

Although postoperative headaches are rarely life-threatening, they can delay patients' discharge and diminish their ability to care for themselves after surgery, the study said.

"They may not eat as much, drink as many fluids and may not get discharged as early," Ereth said. Caffeine also has been shown to be as effective as acetaminophen in treating nonmigraine headaches, he said.

To explore the link between caffeine and headaches, Ereth and his colleagues followed 233 patients who underwent outpatient surgery. Of those, 190 - or 82 percent - consumed caffeine, either in coffee or in cola.

Researchers found that 28 percent of patients who did not have caffeine on the day of surgery developed headaches. Only 17 percent of those who consumed caffeine after surgery developed headaches.