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Hogwarts Headaches Plague 'Potter' Fans

Reading Harry Potter's Prolific Saga May Cause Headaches in Children

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on October 30, 2003
From the WebMD Archives

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 patience.

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 pain.

Upon further examination, the doctor found that each child had spent many hours reading the latest edition of the "Harry Potter" series.

"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 easily.

"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 five.

"If this escalation continues as Rowling concludes the saga, there may be an epidemic of Hogwarts headaches in the years to come," writes Bennett.

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 as chickenpox).

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.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Bennett, H. New England Journal of Medicine, Oct. 30, 2003; vol 349: p 1779. National Headache Foundation. WebMD Medical Reference provided in collaboration with The Cleveland Clinic: "Your Child's Headache."

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