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Believe It or Not: Bizarre Medical Conditions

From vampires to hiccups to sensitive skin, we’ve identified 17 medical conditions that will have you wondering if we’ve stolen them from an article by The Onion.


Foreign Accent Syndrome: “Do British! Okay, now try German! Can you do Australian? Irish?” We’ve all met someone who is great at doing accents, and although amusing, its always a relief when your friend returns to their usual voice. But what if they couldn’t? Although extremely rare (only 60 reported cases since 1941), FAS is a condition in which a patient starts speaking their native language in a different accent, seemingly brought on due to severe brain trauma, such as a stroke or seizure, and in extremely rare cases, an intense migraine. Scientists have found that certain parts of the brain control linguistic functions, and if these parts are damaged in an accident, it can result in mispronounced syllables and changes in tone and pitch. In one case, an Australian man started speaking with an Irish and an American accent after having a stroke. A British woman started speaking with a Jamaican accent after a stroke. While seemingly amusing at first, the accents do not go away and are thus traumatizing to both the speaker and their friends who have to listen to what sounds like a new person in front of them.

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Cotard Delusion or Walking Corpse Syndrome: No no, this is not a disease that causes people to return from the dead and walk around in the land of the living. However, the people that have this disorder do believe that they are, in fact, walking corpses. They think that they are dead, decaying, or have lost limbs. When they look in the mirror and see a reflection, they feel no connection between the face they see and their inner selves, making them think they do not even exist. Cotard Delusion emerges usually in patients that are bipolar, schizophrenic, or depressed, and can only be treated with antidepressants, anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers, and electroconvulsive therapy. After being brought home to South Africa after a motorcycle accident in 1990, one man believed that he was a dead man wandering through hell (affirmed by the intense heat). Freaky, right?


Congenital Insensitivity to Pain: Backaches. Headaches. Scrapes. Broken bones. There are so many times in our lives when we experience excruciating pain and simply wish we couldn’t feel it. For some, that is a reality. While seemingly awesome (the Jackass crew would surely be jealous of this inability), it means that people will not stop engaging in something that is harmful to them simply because they can’t feel it. Children and babies are especially in danger because they easily bite off the tips of their tongues or move even if they have fallen and fractured a bone. Adults may not notice even small things such as infections, or in more intense situations such as a car crash, they may try to get up and move without even realizing they are injured, potentially worsening their injuries. Most children have to wear protective goggles because they poke at their eyes continuously. For many cases there is no treatment, and thus people must take preventive measures, such as pulling their children’s teeth before they can hurt themselves.


Porphyria, or Vampire Disease: Been reading Twilight or watching Vampire Diaries? Well, now you can believe the hype, because vampires do exist. Fortunately for us, these people just look like vampires, not act like them, because of a series of unfortunate chemical reactions in their bodies. People suffering from poryphia can be extremely sensitive to sunlight and will get burns or abrasions easily under the sun, obviously preferring to stay inside. Their urine is purplish-red, which some think is a result of drinking blood. Lastly, their skin begins to tighten and shrink, and as this occurs around the mouth, the canine teeth become more visible and akin to fangs. Now the only problem is…how do we distinguish these “vampires” from the ones that actually drink blood?


Cataplexy: We’ve all laughed until we couldn’t breathe and had to sit down, but what if you actually collapsed? Cataplexy is a muscular weakness that is triggered by emotions such as anger, fear, awe, or embarrassment, or actions such as laughing. Cataplexy results in buckled knees, slurred speech, arm weakness, and more. People with Cataplexy can become extremely unemotional in order to not risk dropping things or collapsing, which can change and diminish their quality of life. It can be treated with antidepressants.


Argyria, or Blue Skin Disorder: If you’ve ever seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, surely you remember Violet, who chewed blueberry gum until her skin turned blue. Unfortunately for some, this is a reality. Argyria is a condition in which the skin becomes blue or blue-grey colored, caused by improper exposure to chemical forms of silver. While silver is generally not dangerous, ingesting or inhaling forms of it, especially colloidal silver, results in silver/sulphide particle deposits in the skin, causing the color distortion. Now, don’t go thinking that just because you touch your grandmother’s jewelry you’re going to end up looking like a smurf. The United States Environmental Protection Agency in 1991 said that the most colloidal silver a person could be exposed to without damage was about 1 liter of 10 ppm colloidal silver per month. Those who have Argyria tend to have consumed gallons of colloidal silver per week for years, to treat sinus and arthritis problems. Thankfully, modern medicine is always looking for new ways to cure things that don’t involve making you a cartoon character.


Hypertrichosis or Werewolf Syndrome is a disorder in which hair grows excessively on the body. Sometimes people are born with it; sometimes it develops later in life. It can be localized or grow all over the body, including the face, leading to the “werewolf” suspicion. Doctors are not certain about what causes hypertrichosis (no, its not the full moon), but one theory is that the anagen phase of the hair cycle, which is when the hair grows, continues on past a normal point, leading to an abnormal amount of hair. There are removal options, such as typical cosmetic procedures like plucking and waxing. Laser hair removal, although normally permanent, is a long-term solution but not a final one, as the hair sometimes continues to grow back. Most people with the condition are actually accepting of it, saying that it defines who they are. Kind of makes me feel ashamed for complaining about a pimple.


Pica: We all ate sand as toddlers on the playground once, but there are some people who never stop. Pica is a disorder in which sufferers have an appetite for basically everything that you are never supposed to eat: metal, dirt, sand, chalk, batteries, office supplies such as tacks, toothbrushes, and soap. Unfortunately, the classic children’s rhyme “God made dirt, dirt don’t hurt!” is not entirely true. People with pica can accidentally ingest animal feces and parasites from the soil, not to mention contracting lead poisoning (which leads to brain damage) from eating paint or plaster. For those who eat glass or other sharp objects such as metal, they risk tearing their stomach or obstructing their intestine. Here’s where it gets interesting: pica is caused by a mineral deficiency, so whatever the patient is eating usually contains the mineral their body is lacking in. Pica is most commonly found in children (usually those with mental developmental disorders) and women (caused by traumatic events, OCD, or schizophrenia). Moral of the story: if your ten year old is still eating dirt…it may be worth a trip to the doctor.


Musicogenic Epilepsy: If you’re at a concert and the guy next to you is dancing so crazily that he looks like he’s having a seizure-he very well may be. Musicogenic epilepsy is just that-musically induced seizures. Triggered by a certain song or type of music, a person can start seizing anytime, anywhere, even if they just hear a few notes of that certain song. It may seem improbable, however the part of the brain that processes music overlaps with the part that triggers seizures. The rhythm of the music and a person’s emotional response to it can cause a group of cells to become excited, and result in a seizure. Surgery is necessary for treatment; doctors identify the parts of the brain that the music is affecting, and attempt to successfully remove them.


Exploding Head Syndrome: The name is misleading. Sufferers of EHS hear explosions, roars, gunshots, screams inside their heads, usually while they are asleep but sometimes while they are awake too. Patients will wake up and think someone has broken into their house, called their name, or that they are in the middle of an attack. EHS is more than “just a bad dream” though; the sufferer’s body responds immediately with fear, anxiety, elevated heart rate, and adrenaline, commonly leading to insomnia because patients are too scared to sleep. There’s no known cause (although there is a correlation to extreme stress) or treatment, though three people were cured by taking clomipramine, an antidepressant. One theory is that a mild seizure occurs in the temporal lobe where the nerve cells for hearing are. Sounds like this is a disorder Dr. House needs to study.


Progeria: If you’ve seen Benjamin Button, you’ve gotten a fair idea of what Progeria might look like. Born a health baby, a child will start rapidly displaying symptoms of aging around the age of 2 years old. Skin becomes wrinkled, joints become stiff, and arthritic, respiratory, and cardiovascular problems can even arise. There is no known cure, and sadly, few children with Progeria live beyond 13 years of age.


Capgras Delusion: We’ve all accidentally not recognized people from our past; old friends or teachers that we coincidentally see on the street as we temporarily forget their names. Some people, however, can’t even recognize a member of their own family. The Capgras Delusion is a disorder in which someone believes that a significant other or a member of their family has been replaced by an identical imposter. One scientist has a theory that it is caused by a disconnection between the temporal cortex and the limbic system. The temporal cortex is where faces are recognized, while the limbic system is associated with emotions. If there is a disconnect, the person cannot synthesize memories and feelings, and thus does not recognize their loved one. It may be found in patients who have had brain trauma or are schizophrenic.


Stendhal Syndrome: Ever seen a piece of art so beautiful it took your breath away? Well, apparently there is a condition in which sufferers have a rapid heartbeat, get dizzy, faint, and even hallucinate when exposed to a particularly breathtaking piece of art, or are in a place where there are many pieces of art, such as a museum. Stendhal Syndrome is commonly referred to as Florence Syndrome, as it often occurs in museums in Florence where many great works are housed.


Medical Students Syndrome: Although it sounds like it should be a plot-line on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, Medical Students Syndrome is a type of hypochondria in which medical students who study patients with certain diseases come to think that they too have those medical conditions. For example, after learning that pneumonia causes pain in a certain spot, the students will concentrate on that spot on their bodies and begin to think that even innocent symptoms are evidence of their own pneumonia, or they may temporarily develop the symptoms they have studied. Talk about mind over matter.


Synthesthesia is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory pathway leads to stimulation of another sensory or cognitive pathway. For example, patients might picture colors when they read or see letters or numbers. Days of the week and months of the year can have personalities. People also hear sounds when they see certain colors. It often arises after a stroke, while under the influence of psychedelic drugs, during a temporal lobe epilepsy seizure, or in people who are blind/deaf.


Dermotographia: What if you could write on your skin without any writing utensil but your fingernail? Dermotographia is a skin condition in which the skin becomes raised and inflamed when scratched or rubbed. It can be induced by anything that has an effect on one’s skin, such as certain fabrics or temperatures. Mast cells surrounded by a a weak membrane release histamines, resulting in the membrane breaking down and a red reaction appearing on the skin. Although it can be treated with antihistamines, one patient, Ariana Page Russell, decided to use her skin as her canvas, drawing different designs on herself and photographing them to make art.


Alice in Wonderland Syndrome is a neurological condition which distorts people’s perceptions. They may see objects as smaller or larger than they actually are, lose their sense of time, and also lack spacial perspective. So all things considered, its a lot like LSD. It is treated with antidepressants and other medicines used to cure migraines, as it is often caused by migraines and brain tumors.

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