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Excedrin History of Head Pain


See how headaches have made their mark.

From the earliest days of recorded human history, headaches and migraines have been a mysterious problem. The ancient Greeks believed they were caused by evil spirits called Keres.1 Aristotle mentioned that the head is subject to pain, because of evil humors proceeding from the stomach and disturbing the brain.2 The Romans simply blamed headaches on the gods.

Given the creative theories about the cause of headaches throughout history, it comes as little wonder that historical headache remedies tended to be just as outlandish. Here's an abbreviated look at diagnosing and treating headache pain throughout history.

4,000-2,000 B.C

Archaeological evidence suggests that trepanation - a form of primitive brain surgery that involved boring a hole through a person's skull - was widely practiced by ancient civilizations…

460 B.C.

The father of medicie himself, Hippocrates, highlighted his own suffering from what sounds like a migraine.2 He described a shining light that was typically seen in one eye and followed by severe pain that started…

100-208 A.D.

Prominent Greek Physician Aelius Galenus first classified migraines.3 Called "hemicrania"…

1000 A.D.

Pioneering Arabic doctor Avicenna observed that headaches could be localized - they could occur frontally, at the back of the head, or generalized. 6

1000 A.D.

Pioneering Arabic doctor Avicenna observed that headaches could be localized - they could occur frontally, at the back of the head, or generalized. 6

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Nicholas Culperer, an English herbalist and physician, suggested the prescription of valerian, a perennial herb, for the nervous headache. This remedy would be used well into the 19th century. 6 Lavender was also used in several forms for headaches during this period, including the essential oil. Also in this century, English doctor Thomas Willis introduced the term "neurology" for the first time. 7


Erasmus Darwin, physician and gandfather of Charles Darwin, subscribed to the vasodilation theory and believed that centrifugation could force the blood from the patient´s head to his feet. 8 In 1886, British neurologist William Gowers published "A Manual of the Nervous System" in which he highlighted the greater prevalence of migraines in female patients and that its onset begins in the first half of life.


Arthur Stoll isolated ergotamine from the ergot fungus. 2 A product of moldy bread, ergotamine is structurally similar to several neurotransmitters and acts as a vasoconstrictor. In 1921, it was marketed as the drug Gynergen, the first pharmacological treatment for migraines (used often in combination with caffeine.)

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Excedrin® Extra Strenght is brought to market to treat headaches in 1960, and is the first multi-ingredient formulation headache treatment product. It containes acetaminophen, aspirin and 65 mg caffeine. By 1962, migraines are associated with neurotransmitter serotonin abnormalities.


Sumatriptan became the first clinically available triptan, a family of tryptamine-based drugs used as medication in the treatment of migraines an cluste headaches. 9 In 1998, Excedrin® Migraine is introduced and is the first migraine medication available to consumers without a prescription.

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A Danish study upended the conventional wisdom on migraines. Researchers ran MRI scans of 19 women who suffer migraine attacks, revealing that migraine pain is not caused by an expansion of the arteries on the outside of the skull, as previously thought. 10 A new theory posits that migraine pain occurs because the nerve fibers around the blood vessels become extra sensitive. 11 This means that the blood´s normal pulsation in an artery feels like an intense, throbbing pain.


Sponsored by Excedrin®, the Migraine Experience is an augmented reality experience that shows non-sufferer what it´s like to have a migraine. Migraines affect 36 million people in the U.S., but the condition is still widely misunderstood - largely because those who don´t experience the condition can´t fully understand it.

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