Headaches in antiquity and during the early scientific era

J Neurol. 2009 Aug;256(8):1215-20. doi: 10.1007/s00415-009-5085-7. Epub 2009 Mar 14.


This paper presents the evolution of ideas on headache symptoms from antiquity through the 19th century. A thorough study of texts, medical books and reports along with a review of the available literature in PubMed was undertaken: observations on headaches date back nearly 4,000 years to the ritual texts of Mesopotamia. Nicolaes Tulp, Thomas Willis and Gerhard van Swieten also made important contributions on various forms of headaches in the 17th and 18th centuries. Edward Liveing and William Gowers made the major contributions to the field in the late 19th century. Overall, observations on headaches span a timeline of nearly 9,000 years. The work of the physicians during the 18th and 19th century, however, set the basis for scientific research.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesia / history*
  • Analgesia / methods
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Biomedical Research / history
  • Biomedical Research / methods
  • Cluster Headache / diagnosis
  • Cluster Headache / history
  • Cluster Headache / physiopathology
  • Headache / diagnosis*
  • Headache / history*
  • Headache / physiopathology
  • History, 15th Century
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Medieval
  • Middle East
  • Migraine Disorders / diagnosis
  • Migraine Disorders / history
  • Migraine Disorders / physiopathology
  • Neurology / history*
  • Neurology / methods


  • Analgesics