Inside the Shape of a Migraine

Wednesday August 07, 2019 Written by James

migraine top

In 1870, English physician Hubert Airy, probably from underneath a cold, damp face towel, drew one of the first pictures of a migraine. Or at least the ‘migraine aura’ – that strange visual soup that descends on the unfortunate victim, causing them to see splodges of light and jagged crystals, while tiny demons chainsaw their way through the skull.

Somehow, through the red mist, Airy managed to get his down on paper.

Until Airy’s sketch, few people really knew what a migraine actually looked like. A couple of sufferers had tried to scribble something down, but nothing this precise, vivid or scientific. Airy’s strangely beautiful drawings actually went on to inform modern neuroscience – specifically the bit that says migraine auras originate in the brain, not the eyes. “There’s still so much we don’t know about migraines,” writes Greg Miller from National Geographic, “[but Airy] anticipated discoveries in neuroscience that were still decades in the future.”

No pain, no gain, we suppose.