Monday, May 03, 2010

I Need That Like a Hole in the Head: History of Medical Treatment of Migraines

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In thinking through all the many medications and treatments I've subjected my body to in order to try to prevent and treat migraine attacks I began to wonder how my condition would have been treated if I'd lived in a different time. Certainly we have more access to medications developed specifically for migraineurs now and more access to pain medications, but what other brutalities lurked in the past for migraineurs?

Trepanning - Trepanation is the practice of drilling holes in the head. This operation is still performed today to release pressure on the brain, for which it is known to be effective. However, in ancient times trepanation was used for many other purposes, including treatment of headaches and migraines.

There are a number of reasons they would have thought it made sense to do this in ancient times. For one thing, they believed that migraines were caused by a build up of pressure in the head. Therefore, they thought it would help relieve that pressure to drill holes in the head just as the treatment is currently used to relieve the pressure caused by a head trauma. Furthermore, many cultures believed headaches and migraines to be caused by evil spirits, so the practice of drilling holes in the head was intended to provide a method for driving out those spirits, thereby relieving the headache.

Interestingly, I learned that a number of the common treatments of yesteryear were not all that strange. In fact many were the precursors of modern treatments.

Willow Bark - As long ago as the time of Hippocrates (400 BC), patients with headaches were advised to chew willow bark to treat pain and inflammation. Willow bark contains a chemical similar to the acetylsalicylic acid contained in aspirin, and its use eventually lead to development of aspirin. Though they are similar, aspirin works much faster and is generally more effective.

Marijuana - Cannabis Indica has been used for a couple hundred years as a migraine treatment. Some people still swear by this and say it also works as a preventative. Obviously it's not legal to use it in most places in the United States, but it seems to work well for some people.

Coca-Cola - Coca-Cola was developed by a pharmacist, introduced as a medicinal beverage and promoted as a treatment for headaches in the late 1800s. People still use caffeine as a tool for treating migraines. It works very well for some people, especially when they're dealing with mild attacks.

Acupuncture - This ancient Chinese medical treatment has been used for a variety of medical purposes for many thousands of years and is still used today as both a preventative and treatment for headaches and migraines. To find a qualified acupuncturist, visit: Acufinder.

As long as you avoided having holes drilled in your head (without anesthesia, mind you) most of these treatments don't sound nearly as bad or scary as I'd expected. I think even a wimp like me could deal with them, but I'm still glad to have ready access to triptans and modern pain medications.

History and Evolution of Trepanation
How Trepanation Was Performed
An Illustrated History of Trepanation
Ancient Persian Headache Treatments
Headache Treatments by Native Peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon
Willow Bark
Coca-Cola History: Invention of Coca-Cola
Living Well With Migraine Disease & Headaches by Teri Robert, PhD
Headache Through the Ages by Seymour Diamond, MD & Mary A. Franklin

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DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this site constitutes medical or legal advice. I am a patient who is engaged and educated and enjoys sharing my experiences and news about migraines, pain and depression. Please consult your own health care providers for advice on your unique situation.