A Forgotten Trope
. In fiction, Brain Fever is a sudden, acute febrile illness brought on by mental shock or stress. It is often severe and may cause raving delirium or insanity; in some cases it ends in death. Meningitis and encephalitis, literal inflammations of the brain, have also been referred to as "brain fever," and fictional cases of Brain Fever may exhibit the same symptoms.
A popular plot device in the nineteenth century, but also appearing in earlier works, Brain Fever isn't used much anymore because, well, diseases don't work that way
. Today, we have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (formerly called Shell Shock or Battle Fatigue) instead.
Often- particularly in young women- is treated by having all their hair cut off
. Even by standards of pre-germ theory medicine, this seems to have no point except to add pathos to the patient's suffering.
For a close cousin of this trope still popular especially in Cosmic Horror
stories, see Go Mad from the Revelation
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Anime and Manga
- As mentioned below Live Action TV, this trope hasn't fully disappeared in Asia. A few times in Fruits Basket, Tohru stresses herself out or gets upset and gets sick as a result. It usually plays out as the Sohmas putting her to bed and putting a cold compress over her forehead and her getting better after a good night's rest.
- In Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, Hinamizawa Syndrome is a version of this combined with Hate Plague.
- Played completely straight in Brand Upon The Brain. Mind you, Guy Maddin plays straight a lot of tropes that nobody else uses now—or ever.
- In Metropolis, Freder collapses with a fever when he thinks Maria has betrayed him.
- Played straight in Tai Chi Master. This happens to Jet Li's character after he is betrayed by his lifelong friend.
- In Therese, the title character becomes ill for two weeks after her oldest and favorite sister leaves to become a nun.
- In Soapdish, Elisabeth's Shue's character, Lori Craven, plays a destitute deaf-mute who is revealed to have Brain Fever during a live telecast of The Sun Also Sets.
- Joe Versus The Volcano. Joe suffers from a terminal "brain cloud". He's told that, anyway.
- This non-specific illness strikes Corrigan's child in 1915 silent film The Italian. And it doesn't appear to be something real like meningitis, because in the movie absolute silence is crucial to the girl's recovery, which would hardly be likely for a real illness.
Live Action TV
- Believe it or not, this is not a Forgotten Trope in Southeast Asia, where many a Korean Drama or Taiwanese Series has the hero/heroine collapsing due to stress, overwork, or convenience, and ends up being cared for by their significant other, often with comfort food and a cold compress across the eyes.
- Boys Before Flowers: This happens several times with Jeun Di, especially when she worked multiple jobs.
- Can You Hear My Heart: Dong Joo frequently would collapse with a fever as a consequence of his fall when he was eight years old. Luckily, Woo Ri was there to nurse him.
- Devil Beside You: Qi Yue gets to do the cold compress thing on Ahmon's brow.
- Japanese drama version of Hana Yori Dango: This happens twice between Tsukushi and Tsukasa, once in an elevator and once in a blizzard.
- Mars: It gave Qi Luo an excuse to take care of Chen Ling all night long.
- Personal Taste: Park Gae In gets fevers when she is on her period, leading Jeon Jin Ho to procure painkillers and rub her tummy all night long.
- Shining Inheritance: Go Eun Song helps an hurt old lady on the street; once her fever is down, it turns out the woman is the CEO of a giant food conglomerate.
- You Are Beautiful: Hwang Tae Young took care of Go Mi Nam when she developed a fever after getting wet.
- In "Qpid" on Star Trek: The Next Generation, the crew of the Enterprise and Picard's flame, Vash, are placed in a Robin Hood simulation. Vash is Maid Marian and is being ministered by a nurse, who says that she must have a brain sickness for sure. She offers to get some nice fresh leeches to drain the fever, which horrifies Vash.
- In Hannibal Will Graham's slow slide into insanity is marked by feverish hallucinations, among other symptoms. He is revealed to be suffering a rare kind of encephalitis.[/spoiler
- Subverted in Tales of the Abyss, when Luke's mother falls ill after his sudden disappearance. Tear feels terrible, since she was the cause of Luke's vanishing, but Luke tells her that his mother has always been sickly - the stress of his disappearance might have made her worse, but it certainly wasn't the only cause of her illness.
- In a Pinky and the Brain short, the duo went to live with a group of Amish farmers for some reason, and at one point Brain explains Pinky's antics as the results of "the Brain Fever".
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko spirals into an illness immediately after he frees Appa at the pinnacle last few episodes of the 2nd season, the explanation being that his inner turmoil had caused his body to react in a sickly fashion.
- Word of God states that the truly amazing longevity of Bumi, Guru Pathik and Avatar Kyoshi can be attributed to "balanced chi". If balanced chi can create health and long life, then perhaps unbalanced chi can create illness.
- It is a fact that depression and anxiety can cause one's immune system to weaken significantly, thus making one very susceptible to a wide range of health problems. When Iroh said that Zuko's illness was an emotional illness, he very well may have been correct. (If Zuko hadn't been so stressed-out and angry all the time, his infection most likely would not have manifested itself so severely.)
- On Daria, the title character is in the hospital for an embarrassing rash, and Jane, trying to make up an excuse for her whereabouts, tells Brittany that she has brain fever. ("It's a thing that brains get," but usually goes away after you read a bestseller.) Ironically the rash turns out to be stress-related, so it sort of fits this trope itself.
- Just like being cold, stress and mental shock can't literally make you sick, but they make getting sick much easier.
- Some drugs, including cocaine, can induce hyperthermia when overdosed. In the 19th century, administering cocaine to patients suffering from emotional stress might actually have induced the febrile state which this trope blames on mental causes alone.
- Not just cocaine. When Robert Louis Stevenson had a serious chest infection that was causing him to haemorrhage from his lungs, his doctors injected a vegetable alkaloid which probably saved his life, but caused him terrifying fever dreams that eventually inspired The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde. (At least, that was his story. He also used cocaine a lot too, mostly as a painkiller for his various aliments.)
- You'll find "brain fever" mentioned in most 19th century medical textbooks, so it wasn't "invented by novelists" as Christie's character says above. Conan Doyle used it frequently, and he was a doctor in Real Life. Any use before 1930 or so is more likely to be a case left behind by Science Marching On rather than outright ignorance on the part of the author.
- Shock could also be a reasonable explanation for some of the fictional reports, combined with PTSD and a stress-weakened immune system, along with, as mentioned above, meningitis and encephalitis.
- Delirium or hallucinations may be considered a sort of brain fever. Dehydration, lack of sleep, and overexertion can cause such effects.
- It could be a case of getting cause and effect the wrong way round- high temperatures caused by an infection not directly related to the brain can cause delirium or mental disturbance, especially in children.