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History of Neurology
December 2003

The Headaches of Alexander Graham Bell

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Neurology, University of Washington, Seattle. Dr Doherty is now with Swedish Neuroscience Institute, Epilepsy Center, Seattle, Wash.



Arch Neurol. 2003;60(12):1805-1808. doi:10.1001/archneur.60.12.1805

Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876. In so doing, he fundamentally changed how we communicate. The telephone was not immediately successful. To publicize his invention, Bell traveled often. He wrote his wife, who was deaf, frequently and candidly during their days apart. Their letters are available online for public review and are searchable by keyword. Using the keywords "headache," "head ache," "medicine," and "pill," 90 letters were identified and examined for decscriptions of Bell's frequent, debilitating headaches. The headaches lasted hours to days, were associated with nausea and photophobia, worsened with exercise, and remitted with sleep. Bell suffered from migraines. His potential etiologies and treatments are discussed as are spouse and parent concerns about his health.

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