20 Rare Syndromes That Don’t Sound Real


July 18th, 2010

Sometimes real life science can be just as strange as science fiction, especially when it comes to ailments of the human body, something medical and nursing school students learn quickly. With so many things that can go wrong as highly complex life forms, human illness can take an immeasurably wide range of forms. Here are some of the weirdest, most impossible sounding of these syndromes and illnesses that have been recorded, many of which sound much more like fiction than fact.

  1. Exploding Head Syndrome: This syndrome doesn’t mean that the sufferer’s head literally explodes– it only seems like that to them. Sufferers report hearing an incredibly loud noise originating from within his or her own head, like that of an explosion or gunshot. Often, those with this condition will experience the noise while asleep, startling them awake, though it is possible for it to occur while awake as well. No one knows exactly why the syndrome occurs, but even more strangely, it can be a one time occurrence or happen many times throughout a lifetime.
  2. Moebius Syndrome: The effects of this syndrome are noticeable from birth, resulting in facial paralysis and the inability to move the eyes from side to side. This means that sufferers cannot blink or make any sort of emotional facial expression. It is caused by the underdevelopment of cranial nerves and can often result in a wide range of other abnormalities. There is no treatment for the condition but specialized attention can help sufferers talk, eat and deal with eye dryness.
  3. Ondine’s Curse: This condition affects the respiratory system and can be deadly if left untreated. Those with Ondine’s curse will suffer respiratory arrest while sleeping, resulting from an inborn defect or traumatic injury to the part of the brain that controls breathing. In the most severe cases, respiratory arrest can occur while awake as well. Treatment for the condition usually involves a tracheotomy and constantly attachment to a ventilator in order to survive.
  4. Latah: Also called culture-specific syndrome due to the fact that it’s only found in certain areas of the Middle East and Asia, this syndrome causes sufferers to go into a trance and repeat phrases and actions when they are startled. Those afflicted are generally adult women, and will sometimes mimic the words and actions of those around them or will obey any command given to them.
  5. Pica: While most of us wouldn’t find the the thought of eating mud, metal or paper appetizing, this syndrome causes sufferers to do just that, creating an appetite for substances that are generally considered inedible and even potentially dangerous to consume. There is a variation of this syndrome as well, where the appetite is directed towards certain food items like rice, ice cubes, and salt. Oddly enough, it can be found not only in humans but in animals as well, and some medical professionals think it results from mineral or nutritional deficiencies.
  6. Capgras Syndrome: In this disorder, a person has the delusion that a friend, spouse, family member, coworker or other associate has been replaced by an identical-looking imposter. While it most commonly occurs in those who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, it can also occur in individuals who have symptoms of dementia or who have had some kind of traumatic brain injury. Studies of those with the syndrome have shown that sufferers do not lose their ability to recognize faces but lose the automatic emotional response that comes along with seeing a familiar face.
  7. Foreign Accent Syndrome: It might sound pretty bizarre, but those with this medical condition begin pronouncing their words with a foreign accent. This condition is most commonly the result of a brain injury or stroke, though some cases have been found where it has been the side effect of intense migraines. New research has shown that this syndrome may not in fact make the speaker use a foreign accent, but simply distorts their speech in a non-specific way that to the listener, sounds as though they were using an accent.
  8. Trichotillomania: Sufferers of this condition have the compulsive need to pull out their own hair, often resulting in large, bald patches on their scalp, facial hair, eyelashes or other body hair. Caused by the lack of impulse control in the sufferer, this condition is incredibly difficult to treat as those who do it are often unaware they are doing so. Additionally, sufferers often feel shame at their appearance and suffer serious self-esteem issues, going to great lengths to cover up their pulled hair.
  9. Alice in Wonderland Syndrome: Named after the classic novel by Lewis Carroll, this neurological condition affects the perception of the sufferer, causing him or her to no longer correctly be able to gauge the size of objects in the visual field. Causes of the syndrome range from migraines to brain tumors, and its occurrence is not altogether uncommon in childhood, with most growing out of the syndrome as they age.
  10. Genital Retraction Syndrome (Koro): This syndrome is culture-specific, having been recorded predominately in China and Southeast Asia, and very rarely in other parts of the world. Those afflicted by it believe that their genitals or nipples are retracting and will eventually disappear. The syndrome very often results in physical injury as those suffering from it attempt to prevent their organs from retracting through means of physical force.
  11. Jerusalem Syndrome: Planning a trip to the city of Jerusalem? You might want to learn a little about this disease before you go. Numerous cases have been recorded of visitors to this holy city becoming obsessed with religious ideas, delusions of greatness or psychosis-like experiences. Even more strange, it hasn’t been limited to those of any one faith. Those already suffering from mental illness, diagnosed or not, form the bulk of the sufferers of this condition. Treatment involves removing the sufferer from the city for two or more weeks.
  12. Walking Corpse Syndrome (Cotard Delusion): In this rare neurological disorder, sufferers believe that they are dead, do not exist, are rotting or have lost their internal organs. At times, it progresses to include delusions that the person is, in fact, immortal. The severity of the condition varies and is most often seen in those who have mental illness or who have sustained a traumatic brain injury. Scientists believe it is related to Capgras Syndrome in that the person loses the emotional connection to their own reflection, feeling disassociated with it and not believing that it truly exists.
  13. Alien Hand Syndrome: Ever thought a part of your body had a mind of it’s own? Well in this condition, sufferers believe just that, and a person’s hands or other limbs seem to take on a life and agenda of their own. It is most commonly seen in those who have had surgical separation of their brain hemispheres, but can also occur after strokes, other forms of brain surgery and brain infections. Those with this syndrome are often unaware that their hands are performing actions and while they maintain feeling in the hand no longer have a sense of control or ownership over it.
  14. Fatal Familial Insomnia: This inherited disease is incredibly rare and is the result of a mutated protein that affects the brain. Those with it cannot get to or stay asleep, often losing so much sleep that the condition is fatal. Onset of the illness can be anywhere from 30 to 60 and sometimes occurs following childbirth. Sufferers will first be unable to sleep, then may experience hallucinations and rapid loss of weight, eventually succumbing to dementia and very often, death.
  15. Stendhal Syndrome: In this illness, sufferers will have rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting and even hallucinations when they are exposed to artwork. Symptoms are exacerbated by especially beautiful pieces or in places like museums where a large amount is collected in one place. The syndrome has been most widely reported in Florence, Italy, where numerous cases have been reported of individuals fainting after having taken in Florentine art.
  16. Jumping Frenchmen of Maine: This rare disorder was first described in 1878, found in related French-Canadian lumberjacks working in Maine. While it is not clear whether the disorder is physical or mental, it causes an exaggerated startle reflex whereby the sufferer will obey any command given when sudden, unexpected stimuli were introduced. Some studies of the condition believe that it was brought on by psychological conditions at the lumber camp, and is not of physical origin despite occurring in several members of the same family.
  17. Spasmodic Dysphonia: Also called laryngeal dystonia, this disorder of the voice causes involuntary movements of one or more of the muscles in the voice box during speech, causing the sufferer to have one of several effects. Words either can be cut off or stuttered, or breathy and whispered, depending on the variation the sufferer has. Even stranger, these effects to the voice only occur when speaking, not when singing, laughing or speaking at a high pitch.
  18. Fish Odor Syndrome (Trimethylaminuria): Sufferers with this condition have a metabolic disorder that causes the body to no longer be able to break down trimethylamine, causing them to have a strong body odor often resembling that of fish though not always so. There is no known treatment for the disorder and those with it often have life-disrupting effects in their social lives.
  19. Sexsomnia: Similar to sleepwalking, this disorder occurs during REM sleep and causes sufferers to engage in sexual acts while they are asleep. There are often unpleasant consequences associated with this disorder as when the sexual actions are performed on an unwilling partner.
  20. Werewolf Syndrome (Hypertrichosis): Those with this disorder have an abnormal growth of hair on the body, often in places where hair isn’t normally found, such as the face. There are a wide range of variations in severity and types of hair involved with this syndrome, but the most famous sufferers of the condition have had their faces covered in hair, causing them to resemble werewolves in appearance.

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