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Migraines Throughout History

Migraine headaches have plagued humans for thousands of years. I wouldn’t be surprised if our earliest ancestors had migraines! The earliest documented occurrence of a migraine was done by Hippocrates in 400 BC. Hippocrates noted the visual disturbances that sometimes come before a migraine, and how vomiting gave the patient some relief. Later, a physician by the name Galenus of Pergamon coined the term “hemicrania”, which means “half the skull”, to better describe the pain most of his patients felt on one side of the head. He also was the first to suggest a connection between migraines and the stomach. Islamic philosopher Avicenna described this condition in detail and referred to diet, sounds, and light all increased the pain. He also noted that his patients would often rest alone in a dark room until the attack passed. The work of Abu Bakr Mohamed Ibn Zakariya Razi noted a possible hormone connection as most of his migraine patients would have an increase in attacks after menopause, or during their period.

Artist Depiction of Trepanning Procedure

The apparent mechanism of pathology for migraines has changed over the years with many popular mechanisms focusing around brain vasculature changes (blood vessels in the brain either constricting or dilating), hormone disturbances, and imbalances in the gut microbiome. There is still no clear-cut answer as to why migraine attacks come on, but here is my best guess using the latest research. During the Dark Ages however, the apparent mechanism of pathology for migraines (and really any disease) was caused by evil spirits running amuck inside the head. This train of thought lead physicians of the time to treat a migraine with a surgical procedure called trepanning. This procedure involved drilling a hole into the skull of its victim/patient, giving the dreaded evil spirits an opportunity to exit. Needless to say, it was never very successful. This procedure is still used to this day. Thankfully, not to treat migraines, but mainly to remove pressure from an area (not evil spirits).

Aside from the Dark Ages, treatment methods for migraine headaches have not changed much. Avoidance of headache amplifying triggers such as: light, loud noises, and certain foods and drinks have been shown to help relieve the pain. Certain herbs, and other natural remedies aimed at constricting dilated blood vessels in the brain have been used for centuries with some success. If you are interested in the most recent treatment methods for migraine headaches without the use of prescription medication, check out our article on the best supplements for headache relief.

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