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Migraine assumptions throughout the centuries

Did you know that migraines have been affecting people for a very long time? Before the 19th century, the amount of information and knowledge about the brain was very limited and medicine was primitive.

One of the first explanations for migraines was that it was caused by gods and spirits; why else would someone be suffering from an aura?

Another theory involved the theory of humors. Hippocrates, a Greek Physician, believed that some human behaviors, emotions, and moods were caused by either an excess or lack of body “humors” (fluids). The four humors were blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm. The yellow bile was associated with migraines because whenever patients got a migraine, they would get nausea and vomit.

In the 19th Century, Edward Liveing, an English physician, published a theory of migraines in his book On Megrim. He described migraines as “a certain tendency of the nervous system, for the most part innate and often hereditary, to the irregular accumulation and discharge of the nerve force. A gradually increasing instability of equilibrium in the “nervous parts.”

Up until the late 1900’s studying the brain wasn’t particularly easy because we didn’t have the right type of equipment we have today. Many psychologists, therefore, had different explanations for the cause of migraine: they put the blame on the patient.

Furmanski, a psychologist, conducted a study on 100 migraine patients in 1952 and found that nausea and vomiting were major symptoms of migraines. These two symptoms signified disgust and could be interpreted as a hate or fear of a person or situation.

Mansour, a psychologist, wrote an article claiming that migraines were a psychological problem caused by emotional distress.

Thanks to the increasing advances in the medical field, scientists have stopped blaming migraine patients for their migraines (though many doctors still do). We still have a long way to go before full acceptance that migraine is a physiological condition and not a mental one. We now know that migraine is a condition specific to a migraine-brain that has different anatomy from a regular brain.

Dr. Edward Liveing M.R.C.S

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