The human body is an incredible and complex work of biology. While it manages to hold all our bones, organs, and liquids together for decades, its complexity can prove to be a great weakness. It leaves us vulnerable to a greater number of medical conditions and diseases too grand for our kind’s greatest brains to keep up with.
While scientists continue to hunt for the cure for horrible illnesses such as cancer and AIDS, there exist plenty of other, less common diseases that cause their own brand of suffering. These rare conditions often leave those afflicted feeling more alone and helpless than anyone. It can be hard to understand just what they are going through, but the first step is to educate yourself. Here are the 10 strangest diseases human kind has encountered.
1. Foreign Accent Syndrome
Mimicking another country’s accent is more than an impressive party trick for some; it’s a way of life. Most commonly developed after a traumatic brain injury such as resulting from a stroke, or can even come from a migraine, FAS causes those inflicted to speak in their native language with a “foreign” accent.
The condition is very rare, with less than 100 reported cases since 1907. There was an incident where a Norwegian woman was hit by shrapnel during World War II, resulting in her developing a German accent. Not being the best time in the world to develop an Axis tongue, she was ostracized by her people. However, some people have claimed to enjoy their change in speech, saying it gives them more confidence and proves to be a great conversation starter, and what an interesting conversation that would be to hear.
2. Werewolf Syndrome
Some of us are hairier than others, but those with Hypertrichosis are far beyond the norm. The condition causes excessive hair growth without discrimination of age, sex, or race, it can even be found in babies. Not to be confused with hirsutism, which is classified by the unwanted male-pattern hair growth on a woman’s face, chest and back, Hypertrichosis can develop hair all over their bodies or just in isolated areas.
Those afflicted have commonly been featured in carnival sideshows, hyped up for their werewolf like traits. It is unknown what exactly causes Hypertrichosis, but it is believed to stem from rare genetic mutations, as it is always distinguishable at birth. The only treatment available presently is the same action you would take against any unwanted hair: shaving, waxing, etc. This has proven to last ranging from days to weeks. Even laser hair removal will not permanently cure the issue, and runs the risk of causing scarring, dermatitis or hypersensitivity.
3. Persistent Arousal Syndrome
Persistent Sexual Arousal Syndrome (or Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder) isn’t as fun as it sounds. Primarily found in women, both young and old, PSAS is categorized by a persistent feeling of “vaginal congestion” and other physical signs of sexual arousal without any actual sexual desire bringing them on. These symptoms can last from hours, days, to even months at a time and are completely unpredictable.
A month long orgasm certainly isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Most afflicted women report feels of shame and discomfort from their condition. There also comes a great struggle for the public to take the disorder seriously, choosing instead to glamorize it.
Achieving natural orgasm can provide some temporary relief, but there is no lasting cure or treatment. While most women find the syndrome dreadful and unwanted, there are some cases where women find the constant arousal as pleasurable and mysterious. Because of this, it is believed that the phenomenon is underreported, causing PSAS to be less recognized and evaluated than it ought to be.
4. Alien Hand Syndrome
“The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing” is actually true for some people. Alien Hand Syndrome (AHS) s a rare neurological disorder that causes your hand to move without your knowledge or control. It is common for the hand to reach out and grab things against the owner’s wishes, and there have even been instances where those with this syndrome have been awoken to their hand trying to strangle themselves. Often one must use the healthy hand to restrain the rogue extremity.
Alien Hand Syndrome stems from trauma to the brain, usually after brain surgery or a stroke. The area of the brain that is damaged, as well as the dominant hand, determines which subtype of AHS one is inflicted with.
There is currently no treatment for Alien Hand Syndrome; the only way to counter it is to keep the hand busy by giving it an object to hold.
5. Walking Corpse Syndrome
This rare mental illness causes people to believe that they are dead, have lost body parts, or simply don’t exist. Living as a real life zombie has its highs and lows. While at first it comes with a cathartic feeling of freedom from the trivial matters we living deal with on the day to day, but it is quickly followed up with an overwhelming depression and nihilistic outlook. They feel completely detached from the rest of the world, alone in their afterlife.
Since Cotard’s Syndrome deludes it’s victims into thinking they are already dead or don’t exist, they are also convinced that they do not need to eat or bathe, turning them into the skeletal, rotten smelling image that comes to mind when we think “zombie.” While denial of self-existence is most common with Cotard’s Syndrome, it is nearly just as likely for them to believe they have become immortal.
In 1880, neurologist Jules Cotard studied one patient titled “Mademoiselle X” who was convinced that because she had no brain, nerves, chest, stomach, or intestines she had no need to eat. Mademoiselle X later died of starvation.
6. Tree Man Syndrome
Epidermodysplasia verruciformis (EV) is a rare, recessive hereditary skin disorder that causes the growth of scaly maculopapular lesions mainly on the hands and feet. The thick, tree-bark like warts can grow all over the body, as well as on the inside of the skin. “Hands and feet have been described as looking like contorted, yellow-brown branches extending up to 3 feet.” This can make it extremely difficult to use these extremities. The skin becomes thick and hardened, as old skin dies, new skin is generated.
While there is no official treatment right now, there have been benefits from avoiding sunlight and x-ray irradiation, which are suspected to progress benign warts into cancerous ones. Surgery to remove skin lesions has also been beneficial, as well as cryotherapy and skin grafting if necessary.
So far, more than 200 cases of Tree Man Syndrome have popped up. EV is universal, affecting anyone and everyone. It is most like to start between the ages of 1 and 20, but can occur at any age, the average age of those with EV is 39.
Also known as Lymphatic filariasis, Elephantiasis is caused by parasitic worms. It is not uncommon for cases of this disease to exist without symptoms, but some people develop large amounts of swelling of the arms, legs, or genitals. Over 120 million people worldwide are infected, with about 40 million disfigured and incapacitated by the disease. Infection is most commonly transmitted through mosquitoes that are carrying filarial parasites, though the painful swelling will not occur until later in the victim’s life.
There is no cure for Elephantiasis, the best results coming from preventive measures done by each individual community, as there are varying forms of the disease based on location. Vigorous cleaning as well as chemotherapy has proven to be effective treatments, as well as some surgeries for genital infection. As of 2015, the Ministry of Health has given up on searching for a vaccine and instead has chosen to focus on mass drug administration in areas where the worms are discovered in hopes of preventing further infection.
8. Alice In Wonderland Syndrome
This neurological disease affects human perception, leading those inflicted to perceive their body parts or objects as much larger or smaller than they actually are. These temporary episodes are closely linked to migraines, brain tumors, and the use of hallucinogenic drugs. The person affected by AIWS may also lose the sense of time. It will appear that time is moving very slowly, much like an LSD experience.
Alice In Wonderland Syndrome most commonly occurs in childhood, beginning around age 6, and can slow or even cease through teenage years into adulthood. However, it can return later in life from either stress or natural changes that occur in the brain as someone ages.
In one study, a 17 year old male described his experience: “Quite suddenly, objects appear small and distant or large and close. I feel as I am getting shorter and smaller ‘shrinking’ and also the size of persons are not longer than my index finger. I may hear the voices of people quite loud and close or faint and far. Occasionally, I experience attacks of migrainous headache associated with eye redness, flashes of lights and a feeling of giddiness. I am always conscious to the intangible changes in myself and my environment.”
9. Vampire Syndrome
The human body needs sunlight in order to generate Vitamin D, but the Sun’s powerful UV rays are also capable of hurting our skin. The 1 in 1 million people that suffer from Xeroderma Pigmentosum can’t take in UV rays at all without facing intense sunburn or breakdowns of the skin. It is extremely easy for them to contract skin cancer, leaving these people no choice but to avoid the sun all together. Caused by a rare mutation, enzymes that usually correct damage caused by UV rays don’t work properly, allowing the damage to continue accumulating.
10. Stone Man Disease
Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva is an extremely rare disease that mutates the body’s repair mechanism. The result is that when an area is injured, whether muscle, tendon, or ligament, the body regrows bone where the soft tissue once was.
This new addition of bone to our natural skeletons causes those inflicted with FOP to lose the ability to move that part of their body. The bone growth can disrupt joints and any other part of the body that injury occurs. Even attempting to surgically remove the new bone only results in the body repairing the new cut with more bone.
It’s an awful disease that causes those afflicted to slowly become caged by their own skeletons. Luckily, as of 2015, science has taken an important step towards curing the often fatal disease. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. based in Tarrytown, NY discovered that the disorder is caused by a mutation in a gene called “ACVR1” that controls bone and muscle development. They are developing an antibody that stops the over active gene. Successful trials have already been run on mice without apparent side effects, so there’s new hope for the 800 plus cases around the world.