Almost everybody knows the misery of headache. In fact, three out of four people have at least one headache a year. And for 45 million Americans, headaches are a chronic problem. Fortunately, most headaches are not signs of serious illness, though the pain may be very annoying.
Ninety percent of headaches are classified as tension headaches, and that everyday villain, stress, is usually the cause. Migraines, which involve the cerebral arteries, bring even more severe pain and affect 16 to 18 million people, the majority of them women.
In general, headache sufferers are more likely to be younger than older. Asked if they had had at least one headache in the preceding 12 months, more than 80 percent of those aged 18 to 34 said yes. But only 50 percent of those 65 and older reported at least one headache in the last year.
Long before treating headaches was a medical specialty, people tried just about everything imaginable to relieve the pain. Here are a few of those methods:
1. In the sixteenth century, surgeons tried burning and scraping bone under the sliced scalp.
2. In the 1800s, doctors tried applying a pair of tongs to the neck.
3. Mexicans in the Sierra Madres believed in stroking the head with a live toads.
4. The Romans and Europeans used to tie on a hangman's noose (hopefully, not too tightly).
5. A physician-priest of Mesopotamia advocated tying on a headband woven of the hair of a virgin.
6. "Prescriptions" have included dill blossoms boiled in oil, marijuana, roses, and candied sugar.
I think I'll stick to aspirin.