News & Research, Society

Does Harry Potter Have Migraine?

The excruciating pain in Harry Potter’s forehead when evil is present is one reason experts have diagnosed him with “probable migraine” in the latest issue of Headache, the journal of the American Headache Society.

“Come on” (said like an exasperated teenager) was my first reaction. But the argument is quite persuasive.

What makes the experts so convinced Harry is a migraine sufferer? Consider the facts:

  • Migraine headaches often start during adolescence (although they can appear much earlier): Harry started having excruciating headaches at age 11, soon after he found out he was a wizard.
  • Migraine headache pain is often (but not always) on one side of the head: the focal point of Harry’s headaches apparently is the lightning-shaped scar on the side of his forehead.
  • Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms of migraine, particularly in children: as he experienced more headaches, Harry increasingly developed these symptoms.
  • Migraine is disabling: there is no doubt that Harry was completely debilitated during his headache attacks, and on occasion was brought to his knees by them.

Harry’s headaches fulfill all but one of the criteria
for migraine diagnosis according to the gold-standard International Classification of Headache Disorders-Second Edition (ICHD-II): he’s had at least five attacks; they’re severely painful and one-sided; they’re disabling; they’re accompanied by nausea and vomiting and they can’t be
attributed to another disorder.

The only criterion that isn’t fulfilled is length of the headache. Harry’s headaches are excruciating, but typically end within minutes of starting, whereas in Muggle children and teens, a migraine headache typically lasts at least one to three hours. Without that last criterion, Harry gets the diagnosis of “probable migraine.”

Do you buy the argument? See Harry Potter and the Horrible Headache for the rest of the story and let me know what you think.

Hallie Thomas, a 17-year-old recent high school grad and migraineur, is third author on the study. I think that is so cool!