Hogwarts Headaches Plague 'Potter' Fans
Reading Harry Potter's Prolific Saga May Cause Headaches in Children
Oct. 30, 2003 -- Avid readers of Harry Potter's prolific saga
may suffer from a unique form of "Hogwarts headaches." But the antidote
to this strange condition doesn't require any wizardry, just a little
A report in this week's New England Journal of Medicine
describes three cases of children who developed prolonged headaches after
spending several hours reading the latest installment of J. K. Rowling's
"Harry Potter" series based at the fictional Hogwarts School of
Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The children, who ranged in age from 8 to 10 years old, came to
a Washington, D.C., area doctor's office complaining of two to three days of
generalized headaches. In each case, the child said the headache was dull and
the pain fluctuated throughout the day. One child also reported neck and wrist
Upon further examination, the doctor found that each child had
spent many hours reading the latest edition of the "Harry Potter"
"The presumed diagnosis for each child was a tension
headache brought on by the effort required to plow through an 870-page
book," writes researcher Howard J. Bennett, MD, of George Washington
University Medical Center.
But Bennett says the children didn't take their diagnosis
"The obvious cure for this malady -- that is, taking a
break from reading -- was rejected by two of the patients, who preferred
acetaminophen instead," writes Bennett. "In all cases, the pain
resolved one to two days after the patient had finished the book."
A Hogwarts Headache Epidemic?
Bennett says it's worth noting that the Hogwarts headache
phenomenon only emerged after the most recent edition of the "Harry
Potter" series, which was much longer than previous editions.
He says each of Rowling's successive books has been bigger than
the last, growing from about 300 pages in book one to nearly 900 pages in book
"If this escalation continues as Rowling concludes the
saga, there may be an epidemic of Hogwarts headaches in the years to come,"
Treating Tension Headaches in Children
According to the National Headache Foundation, about 20% of
children experience tension headaches from time to time. Symptoms include
moderate pain and a feeling of pressure or a band around the head.
These headaches usually go away on their own or with treatment
with an over-the-counter pain reliever. But children under 14 should not take
aspirin due to the potential risk of Reye's syndrome (a rare disorder that
children may develop while they are recovering from childhood infections such
But a child should see a doctor if the headaches persist or
worsen over time or if he or she develops any of the following symptoms along
with the headaches:
- Loss of vision
- Speech problems
- Muscle weakness
These symptoms may be a sign of a more serious condition and
require prompt medical evaluation.