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From headache tablets to headache tablets – a history of headache in childhood
  1. AN Williams
  1. Virtual Academic Unit, CDC, Northampton General Hospital, Northampton, UK


It is difficult to dispute that headache is a perennial human condition. However, childhood headache having been called the ‘Cinderella’ of paediatric neurology has previously been totally eclipsed by that of headache in adulthood.1,2

Any history of a paediatric condition must be viewed through the lens of historical context. From the medical perspective this involves changing clinical understanding, the creation of neuroscience, the development and subsequent evolution of specialist children's services, and lastly the significant change in the epidemiology of paediatric conditions particularly within the Western world over the last century. From the sociological perspective, the increasing recognition of children and childhood must also be considered.

Starting from a Mesopotamian tablet in the 3rd millennium BC, via Felix Wűrtz's sixteenth century plea that children's headaches should be taken seriously, through William Day's 1872 first classification of headaches in children right through to the present, this paper highlights the long and often unheralded history of childhood headache.3,4

There has been a vast increase in knowledge of headache in childhood over the past 30 years. Such areas include epidemiology, clinical classification of headache disorders, understanding of pathophysiology, use of modern imaging technology, pharmacology and therapeutics, the prognosis of headache disorders and lastly their impact on patients and the society at large. In the United Kingdom National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, having consulted, is intending to publish guidance on diagnosis and management of new onset headaches in young people and adults in 2012.5

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