Headache Causes

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Monday, September 15, 1913:  For one thing I’ve had a splitting headache this afternoon and it still continues.

rainy day

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Ouch. . . headaches are no fun!  I wonder what caused Grandma’s headache.

Here is what a hundred-year-old book said about headaches causes:

Headache is a symptom rather than a disease, but there is no symptom which requires more careful investigation of its cause than that of headache. It occurs at all ages, but is most common from ten to twenty-five years and from thirty-five to forty-five years. Women suffer from headache more than men, in the proportion of about three to one. Headaches are most common in the spring and fall of the year and in the temperate climates.

Causes of headache—These may be classified into those in which the blood is at fault; reflex causes; various nervous disorders; and organic diseases.

The blood may be impoverished, as in the case of anemia, where there is a deficiency in hemoglobin; but by far the most frequent cause of headache is where the blood is disordered, as in gout, rheumatism, kidney diseases, diabetes, and the infectious fevers and malaria.

Among the more common reflex causes are eye-strain, especially errors of refraction; disorders of digestion, particularly constipation; and pelvic disorders, as in inflammation of the pelvic viscera.

Functional diseases of the nervous system causing headache are overwork, neurasthenia, hysteria, epilepsy, and neuritis.

Among the most common of the organic diseases is arteriosclerosis; other diseases are meningitis and brain tumors.

Personal Hygiene and Physical Training for Women (1911) by Anna M. Galbraith

You also enjoy reading a previous post on Old-Time Headache Remedies.

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32 Responses

  1. That is quite a list. (although I am sure it is much longer today)

  2. Fascinating. Was Malaria common? This is a great post for me today as I have a headache. It is a spring headache brought on by allergies and pollen. Allergies are not mentioned in the list, are they?

  3. We can all relate, Grandma!

  4. Hope these are not ongoing!

  5. I know how you feel, Grandma! I woke up with a horrible headache this morning. Allergies, sinus, and the heat kicking on. :/

  6. Interesting, that despite all our advances in medical science, headaches are still such a common and on-going, miserable problem.

  7. Oh, dear. A headache. So often back when your grandmother, nothing was really done that was effective for headache sufferers. Most migraines are caused by a severe accident or a terrible blow to the head wherein your brain is slammed against the wall of the skull. Trust me, I believe in drugs to send them on their way. I think of my Dad and he would really take anything for a headache and as a farmer/rancher out in all that heat – how did he manage? Just call me chicken. Headaches of all types cause me to be really bitchy at times. i’d be better off if someone sent me to my bedroom and shit the door on me.

  8. I have had headaches forever. They certainly are horrid. So far I have none of the afflictions mentioned. Whew. Well, not yet!

  9. I found your link to remedies to be interesting.

  10. Headaches connect us all!

  11. I’d find this account of headache causes pretty scary!

    • I imagine that some people back then ended up worrying that they had some of the most serious headache causes after reading this. (In some ways it’s almost like people today searching for information about health conditions online–and ending up worrying about illnesses that they are unlikely to have.)

  12. I hope your Grandmother did not have any serious cause for her headache. One good thing about the time period she grew up in was that people could retreat to rest in bed. It was understood that rest was a prerequisite for many forms of headaches or minor ailments like a cold. Today, even though we have such meds like Imitrex for migraines, getting others to understand we need rest and quiet is sometimes difficult. It’s assumed that within 10 minutes of taking a pill we’re all ready to keep going.

    • Until I read your comment, I had never thought about it but you’re absolutely right. People used to retreat to their beds when they had various minor ailments–and the bed rest seemed to generally work reasonably well at curing it. :)

  13. I love the line, “…the blood may be impoverished.” Headaches are just as inexplicable today as they were 100 years ago.

  14. I’m lucky to not really get too many headaches. Mostly when I worked, the ol’ stress thing sometimes. But then I’d get home and be greeted by our Buddy and it would all go away. That’s my Rx for headache sufferers, get a dog. :D

  15. Wow, I found myself wanting to tell Helena to “take it easy” today. She is becoming so real to me! Thank you, Helena, wherever you are, for sharing your life and thoughts. And thank you, Sheryl for making her world so vivid!

    • I find that that longer I do this blog the more I want to talk to Helena. I keep wanting to offer “motherly” advice to a teen–and then I realize that it’s my grandmother and probably totally inappropriate to offer advice.

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