A funny article in the medical journal Headache discusses Harry Potter’s difficulties with what seems to be a recurrent migraine. This isn’t the first time that Harry has turned up in the medical literature. In fact, he’s made almost 20 appearances so far.
However, this is the first to consider his neurological problems in detail:
Harry Potter and the curse of headache.
Sheftell F, Steiner TJ, Thomas H.
Headache. 2007, Volume 47, Issue 6, p911-6.
Headache disorders are common in children and adolescents. Even young male Wizards are disabled by them. In this article we review Harry Potter’s headaches as described in the biographical series by JK Rowling. Moreover, we attempt to classify them. Regrettably we are not privy to the Wizard system of classifying headache disorders and are therefore limited to the Muggle method, the International Classification of Headache Disorders, 2nd edition (ICHD-II; pdf). Harry’s headaches are recurrent. Although conforming to a basic stereotype, and constant in location, throughout the 6 years of his adolescence so far described they have shown a tendency to progression. Later descriptions include a range of accompanying symptoms. Despite some quite unusual features, they meet all but one of the ICHD-II criteria for migraine, so allowing the diagnosis of 1.6 Probable migraine.
In the study, participants were brain scanned while being shown short descriptions and were asked to indicate whether they best described themselves or someone else.
One difficulty is that the ‘someone else’ needs to be well known to both children and adults, so Harry Potter was chosen.
In the final study, when participants judged that the phrase described themself, rather than Harry, the medial (midline) part of the frontal lobes were relatively more active.
Interestingly, this area was significantly more active in children than adults, possibly suggesting that this task requires more effort for children and becomes easier as we age.