This may be an obvious question, however I can't find an obvious answer. Is rapid premature aging something we can assume is painful?

I'm not talking about 'natural' diseases such as progeria but rather being hit with an aging spell in a magical universe. Drastic age changes in the space of a few minutes/hours.

I know that as long as I am consistent and know my own universe rules I can do 'whatever' I want with Magic (Sanderson's 3 laws etc).

  • The logical scientist part of me wants to know if your bodies cells age/replicate so rapidly would it not be expected to be painful?
  • or would pain/lack of pain have to be incorporated into part of the spell?


I had two mental images in my head that are actually two different directions to approach this aging spell. However, in my mind, both would cause pain/discomfort or at least some sort of sensory overload mismatch signal in the brain. One more so that the other, I wasn't sure whether this pain was would have to be explained further or if I could just assume it was part of the process and not have to explain or dig further. Which is why I tried to ask the question with no magic specifics. I didn't want to get bogged down in how the magic worked, but rather in what I could expect from biology and the human body's reaction.

  • The first mental image I had in my head, is that the person appears to go through the aging process right in front of you. For instance, go from age 25 through their 30's and into their 40's in a short space of time. The cells replicating rapidly one after the other.
  • The second image I had was that the cell aging was rapid/immediate but the effects were delayed. Even though the cells were aging/aged right then and there, the physical effects to an outside observer where less noticeable (as mentioned by Demigan's puppy cancer giving answer :) )

The strength of the spell determining the speed of the aging, as well as providing most of the energy requirements for cell replication or transformation through handwavium. Although this was never intended for body growth as in aging from a child through to adult. That would have additional energy requirements that I understand would definitely be beyond the scope of this particular question.

The aging spell itself was also never intended to stop localised time, as I realised this had the whole 'how do I feed you and get rid of your poop' issues. I do have a really badly phrased question on just that issue if anyone wants to take a crack at it. That is why I didn't use the [Time] tag and rather stuck with the [biology] tag, as there was surprising not an [Aging] tag of some sort.

Thanks to all the answers so far. I hope this edit has made it a little less opinion-based by giving you a rough idea of what was in my head.

  • $\begingroup$ What exactly do you mean by aging? And remember, every time someone uses the word telomere, a cute little puppy gets cancer $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Apr 12, 2018 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ Hold on, I can answer it without an opinion and science-based if its taken off hold. If the spell just sets your cells to an "old" setting where the telomeres and genetic defects are more nunerous then at first nothing will happen. Things like arthritis, sagged posture from porous skeleton and other defects wont show until the body has had time to degenerate due to its older setting which takes time and some elderly diseases wouldnt even show similar to how not every elderly has alzheimers or arthritis. Should such defects be incorporated in the spell then the immediate change wouldnt Hurt. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Apr 12, 2018 at 21:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Raditz_35 Demigan said "telomere!" A cute puppy just got cancer! $\endgroup$ Apr 12, 2018 at 22:50
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    $\begingroup$ I've voted to reopen this question and my reasons are reflected in this meta question. $\endgroup$ Apr 12, 2018 at 23:09
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH: You used the T-word-that-must-not-be-used too. That makes two puppies with cancer already in this thread. Will no one think of the puppies! $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Apr 13, 2018 at 16:06

9 Answers 9


It would likely be extremely painful.

Perception of pain at a low level is a complex phenomenon, and the "painful" message is not generated as a meaningful signal in the nociceptors ("Pain=20%"), but rather is determined upstream. The "pain" is then perceived after signal processing from a somesthetic "background noise".

This is the reason why a sufficiently large somesthetic stimulation around a certain area will evoke some measure of functional analgesia - the somesthetic processing centers are overwhelmed and can no longer reliably detect the painful stimuli.

The same happens with "phantom limbs" - an amputated limb sends no longer any signal, but this absence of signal is still a difference from the baseline and may be interpreted as "pain".

Now, a very fast aging (or rejuvenation for that matter) would necessarily alter most of the nervous system, which would change the baseline for the whole organism. Chances are that this will be perceived as a huge discomfort, and very likely as an excruciating pain until the somesthetic processors recalibrate themselves to the "new normal" - essentially what is called idiopathic peripheral neuropathy. In this case it would have a cause and affect the whole body, so it could be dubbed peripheral aging-induced neuropathy (PAIN).


I'd say yes.

Aging requires cellular change over the entire body. Every nerve in your body would be experiencing huge changes in local biochemical conditions (i.e. local to the nerve and even in the nerve) and this would register as a sensation or a whole range of confusing sensations. It's hard to imagine this not generating a pain response in the brain (which is itself also changing).

There would also be physical changes - sudden changes in the condition of muscle, cartilage and bone, etc. which would be detected by nerves and generate something like pain.

You would probably experience sensory overload, not just pain, but a brain overwhelmed by nerve impulses from all over the body.

Even if limited to the surface - the skin - this would generate a lot of biochemical activity local to every nerve and within the nerve. Hard to know exactly what that might feel like, but anywhere from intense pins and needles to something more like being enveloped in flame.

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    $\begingroup$ Gradual/normal ageing would cause small imperceptible changes over time. In particular, the performance of nerves could be expected to degrade over time both in terms of the strength and speed of signals to and from the brain, though this does depend upon the specific nerves involved. A sudden magical ageing is likely to result in strong young nerve signals hitting older weaker neural paths. I would expect this to be manifested as severe pain and possibly traumatic shock. It might even be fatal. (+1) $\endgroup$
    – Lee Leon
    Apr 13, 2018 at 7:55

Normal aging isn't "painful" until aspects of the body start aging out and not working within "expected norms." Which begs the question, what does it mean to age?

A Function of Time: If your spell is aging people by speeding up time within the AOE of the spell, then pain due to aging isn't an issue. BUT, pain due to starvation and dehydration would be. The body would be consuming resources "normally." Without sufficient food & water (or the magical equivalent) the body would feel considerable pain ... then die. Let's assume you provide the magical equivalent of food (one that doesn't leave a massive pile of kaka at the target's feet), your target would experience being frozen in one place, the magician standing before him, a soft glow around everything, for all that time.... You might end up with a madman on your hands ("I've been standing there with poop falling around my feet for seventy years! I keel you!")

Without time, what is age? On the other hand, if your spell is not a function of time, but directly agest the body, then things like cell splitting, etc., are irrelevant. Instead, you're modifying the body such that reasonably good things are now unreasonably bad things, like brittle bones, an aged heart, forgetfullness.... It's a very interesting question to ask "what does it mean to be physiologically old?" It's trivial from the passage of time (rust forms on iron over hours), but without time? (suddenly there's rust where once there was metal). In this case you're removing mass from some areas, changing mass in others, and adding it in yet more. It's a rearrangement of the body. Honestly, I would consider that process to be very painful. No less so than liposuction or having a tooth pulled. And applied to the whole body in a period of seconds-to-minutes? I think it would cause life-threatening pain.

Therefore, I don't believe your spell need ever add pain to the mix. It may want to remove it to avoid a dead target.

And you might want it to magically materialize a cushion for the target to fall on...


If the spell just sets your cells to an "old" setting where the telomeres and genetic defects are more nunerous then at first nothing will happen. Things like arthritis, sagged posture from porous skeleton and other defects wont show until the body has had time to degenerate due to its older setting which takes time and some elderly diseases wouldnt even show similar to how not every elderly has alzheimers or arthritis. Should such defects be incorporated in the spell then the immediate change wouldnt hurt.

At worst you would feel the pain of your body's cells literally moving at high speeds through your body, potentially ripping loose as thats not what they are supposed to do. Or you know, you die of malnutrition and water deficiency as your body suddenly cramps years of growth in a few minutes to reach the older age. That would be unpleasant. In any case, if you survive and live long enough to grow older the defects would start occuring and those would hurt.

  • $\begingroup$ So you saying in this case, people will only feel the effects of aging cells after some delay. Would they appear to age in front of you straight away or would this also be delayed somewhat? $\endgroup$ Apr 13, 2018 at 8:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Everybithelps the appearance of age would also be delayed. While the skin would have lost elasticity it wouldnt sag yet because not enough cells have gathered to create the creases and flaps of the elderly skin. And unless the spell specifically does it, pigments in the hair wont be washed away yet and they would look almost the exact same as before. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Apr 13, 2018 at 8:59

(..-) the person appears to go through the aging process right in front of you. For instance, go from age 25 through their 30's and into their 40's in a short space of time.

What if I tell you, there is a precedent of that? But first let me cover the other parts...

First, the actual age of the person will still be the different from the date of birth to the current date. So, if the person is 25 before the spell, the person is still 25 after the spell. Unless we are talking about time travel or some other space-time distortion (which is the case of your other question).

Thus, when we say that the person ages from 25 to 30 in a short space of time, we are talking about apparience. Right? Right.

The cells replicating rapidly one after the other.

That is a tumor. Remeber that in cell reproduction you end up with more cells than you started with. To follow that route the spell needs to kill cells too... and dipose of the dead cells. Also, cell reproduction needs nutrients... does the spell provide those?

I suppose that making the spell mutate or deteriote the cells makes more sense. And, as you already know, that would not have any immediately visible effects.

Ok, the precedent is Nguyen Thi Phuong.

According to interviews, she was allergic to fish, and apparently had a particullary bad allergic reaction with some - probably contaminated - fish... as a result, she had itching in all her body that did not go away. After some self-medication (in interviews she said she forgot what it was) the itching was diminished but still had skin rash. She tried some traditional folk medicine and that got rid of the itching and skin rash... but her skin began to sag and fold.

The whole process took a few months. As a result she had the apparience of a 50 years old woman at the age of 26.

It is unclear what other effects this had on her body. It is worth noting that she died at the age of 30 of an illness that gave her severe stomach pains and had her losing weight rapidly. It is also worth noting that she didn't appear to have the usual effects of age (eg: she didn't go into menopause, or develop artritis, etc.).

Coming around to your spell, it could be possible that instead of chaning the cells, it changes the body. You get a convincing aging effect by moving fat around, and messing with the elasticity of the skin (removing collagen?). You may also want to alter the composition of bones to make them more fragile, take some water and potassium from the blood plasma (it will have some symptoms right away, and will also have some long term effects similar to premature aging).

Superficial effects:

  • Dry irritated eyes
  • Dry saggy skin
  • Wrinkles

The person will suffer:

  • Palpitations
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Possible fainting

If the person does not faint:

  • Joint pain
  • Slow reflexes
  • Cramps
  • Spasms
  • Poor balance
  • Fragile bones

Take care, may break a bone...


  • Fatigue
  • Constipation

Possible long term psychological effects:

  • Memory loss
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Delirium

I'd say it looks like aging to the average joe. The person will need quick medical attention after the spell.

I compiled the symptoms from a few web sites dedicated to medicines plus wikipedia, looking at calcium and potassium defficiency and also short and long time effects of severe dehydration. I took what made sense to me, under the assumption that magic can make it as bad as it needs to be.

In case you want to check, I took information from these sites: webmd.boots.com, healthline.com, everydathealth.com, wisegeekhealth.com and mayoclinic.org. And of course, wikipedia.org.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for the IRL story alone. The rest of the answer is also good. I can work with severe itching instead of the on-the-floor-withering-in-pain i was half-heartedly playing around with!! $\endgroup$ Apr 23, 2018 at 11:12

I'd say it's painful, but in a mental way. Knowing that your time is about to come when you would still have whole life ahead.

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    $\begingroup$ Hi and welcome. Thanks for the answer, do you care to expand a bit more. Currently it's a bit short and may get flagged as a comment answer and possibly be deleted. $\endgroup$ Apr 12, 2018 at 20:31

I don't think the actual aging process would be painful, as cell replication itself doesn't hurt. It does use up energy, so getting hit with an aging spell would likely be extremely exhausting and possibly cause you to pass out. There could also be the normal aches and pains that come with having an older body, which would probably seem more painful to a young person who gets all of them at once, rather than having years and years to become accustomed to it.


Probably somewhat painful, depending on how much you age. I would think the more prevailing sensation is weakness of limbs and a sense of lethargy as energy is sapped out as well and your cells, bones and body parts age prematurely.


Not really, or not for very long, because the body doesn't hold enough readily available energy in it to support this rate of rapid cell replication (nor enough materials to build new cells from but let's ignore that part) so it would start shutting down unnecessary systems like higher brain functions to save on energy consumption. Unless your spell also accelerated the pace chemical reactions take place and the body converts fat into energy. And then you could expect your subject to starve to death and/or get dehydrated within a couple of months' worth of ageing -- so within the space of a few seconds if I'm correct about how fast you want this rapid ageing to take place.


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