Did Elvis die with a migraine?
In the 1960's and 1970's severe headache and migraine were not well understood (some might say little has changed). Due to many of the now familiar traits we associate with migraine, many behaviours were often mis interpreted as drug related, and those seeking assistance often mistaken to be abusers of illicit drugs and often, sadly, turned away from hospitals. In fact a stigma was often attached to the disorder as it was thought to be psychosomatic by the medical profession.
In 1973 Elvis was admitted to hospital on numerous occasions for treatment of headaches and high blood pressure. In 1975 he underwent an "extensive eye examination" later discovered to be for migraine aura. Some of his other symptoms were sensitivity to light, sound, pain, slurred speech, and fatigue.
Leaked information from Elvis' autopsy revealed a number of medications in his system at the time of his death.
Demerol, Propranolol, LSD and antiemetics.
Demerol (narcotic pain relief), propranolol (beta blocker - blood pressure) and antiemetics (stop vomitting) were all fairly standard drugs prescribed at the time for intractable migraine.
The only other abortive prescription drug for migraines at the time was an ergotamine - DHE45 which is related to LSD structurally, and often tested positive as LSD.
Far from partying on hallucinogenic drugs at the time of his death, Elvis may well have been in the midst of yet another migraine attack.
Little is known about when they started as due to the stigma attached to the condition, it wasn't reported, but it is amazing to think he achieved what he did whilst carrying around the burden of migraines, especially with the medical regime available at the time.
Roger O'Toole is the Director and Senior Clinician of the Melbourne Headache Clinic and has over 10 years experience as a physiotherapist.