Does Harry Potter Have Migraines?

by Teri Robert, Lead Expert

Both patient and public awareness and education have become a focus of many doctors as well as various organizations and other individuals. Educated patients are more compliant with their treatment regimens and have better outcomes. Educating the public will, hopefully, help non-sufferers become more aware of head pain disorders as genuine health problems and offer them a better understanding of the problems of sufferers. I recently spoke with Dr. Fred Sheftell, one of the authors of an article in Headache, “Harry Potter and the Curse of Headache:”

I've always been a big fan of JK Rowling's series on Harry Potter and find her imaginative and creative and able to teach a lot of life lessons to children and adolescents via metaphor and fantasy. I, of course, recognized Harry had headaches and decided why not try to classify them according to our current criteria. I wanted to bring attention to the issues involved with pediatric/adolescent headache, review the current epidemiology, prevalence and impact in a fresh way and discuss the diagnostic issues as well. I enlisted the help of my colleague Tim Steiner who currently chairs the Global Burden of Headache Campaign and helped me start the World Headache Alliance, which became the patient arm of the World Health Organization in regard to Headache Disorders. Halley Thomas our "senior" author helped me locate all descriptions related to his headaches, and then we attempted to go through a variety of possible diagnoses and came up with probable migraine as the most likely. I'm delighted by the response and interest this article has generated and hope that it will bring about renewed interest in the topic.

Fred Sheftell, MD
Director, New England Center for Headache
President, American Headache Society

In studying the passages describing Harry’s “headaches,” Dr. Sheftell and Dr. Steiner, noted:

•  Harry did not have headaches prior to the age of 11, a common age of onset for primary headache disorders, especially Migraine.

•  The onset in Harry’s case seems to be some time prior to puberty since the first evidence of headaches in the series was apparent when he was 14.

•  Although Harry’s headaches haven’t been frequent, they have periodically left him temporarily dysfunctional, thus significantly impacting his life and activities.

•  All of Harry’s attacks strike without warning.

•  Harry’s primary (and perhaps only) trigger is proximity to “He Who Must Not Be Named” (Lord Voldemort).

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