Excerpts from the book: “Migraine: A History”

Excerpts from the book: "Migraine: A History"

In the book “Migraine: A History” (Johns Hopkins University Press), medical historian Catherine Foxhall writes of an incapacitating disease that has been documented to go back thousands of years, although the causes of this neurological disorder are still unclear. . Symptoms vary, as does healing through age (such as wrapping the patient’s head with earthworms).

Migraine affects three times more women than men, causing it to be considered some “women’s disease”, although it affects one in seven people on Earth. As Foxhall wrote in her book, advances in the diagnosis and treatment of migraine stemmed from the examination of desperate women, whose symptoms were disabling – and in the 1800s, financially devastating.

Read excerpts from Foxhall’s book below, and Don’t miss Susan Spencer’s report on migraines and “CBS Sunday Morning” an interview with Foxhall on February 16!


Elizabeth, The Girl Who Dropped Tray, 1895

The Johns Hopkins University Press


In April 1895, Elizabeth, a sixteen-year-old servant from a small village in Burbage, rural Wiltshire, southern England, traveled eighty miles to central London. She sought the help of physicians at the National Hospital for Paralysis and Epilepsy in Queen Square. His kissnotes, which can be found during 1895 in thick bound amounts of caseinotes and treatment cards for female patients from the leading neurologist John Huglings Jackson, tell of his first meeting with doctors and the story he told about his illness Huh. Elizabeth described how she was experiencing a St. Vitus dance (rapid involuntary movement) due to her left side, headaches and pain due to her eyes, sickness and nervousness. Headache occurs two or three times every day and lasts for five minutes at a time. He particularly affected the left side of the top of his head. Noise, or sometimes reading in the morning, was most liable to bring on the attack. Elizabeth had experienced the mantle of giggling and felt weakness twice in her hands in the morning. She described episodes in which she could only see the left side of her field of view, or the left half of objects. This hematoma (or half-sight) may come suddenly or slowly from the periphery, although he had never seen zigzags or vomiting. While she stated that she had never experienced any illness other than “nettle rash” (hives), she had been aware of the disease and pain since she can remember. These worsened when she went to school, and especially when she learned to read. By all visible measures, Elizabeth appeared healthy. Her admission report describes “a bright intelligent healthy-looking girl of 16”. She was not anemic, and had no idea of ​​the disease. Both her facial expression and her behavior appeared “natural”, and her muscles were strong and normal in shape. Only a careful observer could notice “the left fingers with constant rhythm had an extension and extension and a dimension of about half an inch.” For the past month, she explained, she was still unable to keep her left hand.

Elizabeth also narrated a special program, which the physician recorded in the casinos’ margins of her hospital. One day, while carrying a tray full of items to his employer’s house, the spoon on the right side of the tray had suddenly disappeared from his sight. Dash to catch them, he “dropped a lot.” We can imagine the response of his employer to such an apparent episode of clumsiness. For a start, it is likely that the cost to replace Brexit would have come directly from Elizabeth’s salary. Any repetition of such an event would certainly jeopardize her employment, not to mention her opportunity to get a good reference to come forward. Her prediction helps explain the young woman’s decision to travel to London. Elizabeth described her home life to the doctor, underscoring the importance of her journey in hopes of a cure. He was one of eleven children. At first she said that they were all healthy, but when she was further pressured, she admitted that a sister had neuralgia on her face. It turns out that another sister also did. One brother, age fifteen, had water on his brain. Her mother was alive and healthy, and Elizabeth was always well fed and dressed, but the family was poor. “The house was unwell,” notes the record, “very disgusting and damp – mossing the walls. The drains are carried directly into a stream.” From such a description, there is no doubt that the family would have relied on Elizabeth’s ability to work to bring money into the house.

This chapter describes how, in the nineteenth century, physicians developed new theories about head disorders, including sick headaches, bipolar headaches, megrim, and hemicrania. Rather than focusing on the character and location of pain (as was common in comic interpretations), he based his views on the possible causes and physiology of pain within the body, and, in so doing, gender and class. Subject to such conditions of people increasingly claimed. Women, especially fatigued mothers and working women, came to be seen as “martyrs” of migraines. By the 1860s, researchers – eager to develop theories about migraine and its causes and possible treatments – could take advantage of the availability of inleters in specialist settings, such as the National Hospital for Paralyzed and Epilepsy.

Like Elizabeth, people often traveled great distances to care at the National Hospital, in the hope that they would be treated and return to working life which was making chronic illness impossible. Cassinets and re-ports are constructed in institutional settings, as diverse as rhythmic asylums and court trials, suggesting that ordinary people have a deeper impact of migraine on disease onset, work, and relationships in the context of their lives. And sometimes told of disturbing experiences. Institutional patience. There is no doubt that neurological laboratories and hospital wards at places like the National Hospital of London were crucible for some of the most advanced neurological breakthroughs in modern medicine, but it is also true that these developments came at a human cost, as People volunteered in pain presented for exploratory ideas, therapeutic fashions and experimental medicinal mixtures.

From “Migraine: A History” by Catherine Foxhall, published by Johns Hopkins University Press. Copyright © 2019 by Johns Hopkins University Press. Reprinted by permission.


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