Our day-to-day hustle and bustle, the typical concerns with which we occupy our time and through which we define our experiences, often distract from arguably the most important thing in our lives: the state of our health. But earning a living, making appointments, tackling responsibilities, even spending time with those we love is made practically impossible without the security of one’s health in body and in mind.
Of the countless evils that exist in the world—violence, poverty, natural disasters—ill health is one of the most fundamental, universal and debilitating. Disease is something that’s impossible to run away from and for many sufferers it’s something they’d give almost anything to rid themselves of.
Some shocking stories of medical disasters would be fitting in a horror film or a nightmare – for example, a person becomes infected by a mosquito bite and their limbs suddenly balloon to gigantic proportions, as is the case with the deforming disease Elephantiasis. Or someone is born bearing the appearance of old age, like Benjamin Button (but without the stylized Hollywood ending) – the main symptom of Progressive lipodystrophy sufferers. These seemingly fictionalized medical conditions are very real, although perhaps reassuringly rare.
Genetic mutations, hereditary illnesses, and even those that are spread through infections can have at times devastating and little-known symptoms. Those who survive them lend the rest of us an understanding of the horrors that can exist in the very body that we strive to protect. The following list details some of the world’s most unusual and horrific medical conditions that seem more appropriate in the pages of Dante’s Inferno than the medical archives in which they’re found. These strange illnesses summon a deep awe for the great mystery of the human body that leaves much to be discovered. Warning: Some graphic descriptions follow.
10. Auto-Brewery Syndrome
Also known as gut-fermentation syndrome, this strange condition might just be a Frat guy’s dream if it wasn’t so truly debilitating. Essentially, a sufferer of Auto-brewery syndrome experiences all the symptoms of being drunk since his or her own digestive system is the culprit causing the intoxication. The condition is caused by a high excess of bacteria and yeast in the stomach, paired with a diet rich in carbs that makes for a portable brewery in the convenience of your own stomach. Several cases of Auto-brewery syndrome have been reported. Apparently, it’s also very easily treatable; anti-fungal medication will clear up the infection.
9. Morgellons disease
Sufferers of Morgellons disease commonly feel unbearable crawling, itching, and biting sensations on their skin, sensations that they believe are caused by fibers growing under their flesh. Their symptoms are so bad that they often break out in skin lesions and rashes. The medical community generally considers patients with this affliction to suffer from delusions of being infested by parasites, but there are some medical practitioners that consider it to be a physical illness rather than psychosomatic. What’s most bizarre about this disease is the fact that no known cause has been found and so no treatment is available. Despite the fact that many argue the validity of Morgellons disease, there are an approximated 100,000 people who suffer from feeling and at times seeing fibers grow out of their pores.
Pica is an eating disorder characterized by the compulsive and powerful appetite for indigestible substances. It typically affects children and pregnant women, primarily those who are malnourished. It’s more common than we might think, with a growing number of hospitalizations due to the complications of eating indigestible substances. The most common non-food stuffs that pica suffers like to eat are clay, dirt, metal, bath soap, ice and, in some cases, faeces – although no substance is exempt from a pica patient’s menu. There’s no known cure for this condition and by far, lead poisoning and intestinal obstruction are among the most dangerous hazards of this strange condition.
7. Nail-Patella Syndrome
The immediate symptoms of Nail-Patella Syndrome (NPS) — a genetic disorder — are abnormalities in the growth of an individual’s nails, knees, elbows, and pelvis. The most common symptom is the inhibition of nail growth. The illness takes its name from the patellae, or kneecaps, and this is due to the fact that NPS patients may be entirely bereft of kneecaps. Stranger still is the fact that NPS patients almost always exhibit horn-like growths protruding from their pelvic bones and many also have webbed elbows. NPS is believed to affect 1 in 55,000 individuals worldwide.
6. Hereditary Sensory Neuropathy Type 1
Hereditary Sensory Neuropathy Type 1 (HSN) is a rare genetic condition that inhibits an individual’s ability to feel, particularly pain. This condition affects the legs and feet the most and is known to cause ulcers that go untreated in HSN patients, most of the time due to the fact that they can’t feel any discomfort after experiencing an injury. Often times, HSN sufferers experience greater complications due to injuries which they’re unaware that they’ve experienced.
5. Progressive lipodystrophy
Progressive lipodystrophy is a rare disease that usually affects children and young adults, primarily females. A sufferer of this condition will experience rapid signs of aging in the face and upper torso, caused by an extreme loss of fat that results in the sagging and degeneration of the skin. There’s no certain cause of this nightmarish illness but some medical professionals have attributed its cause to immune disorders and side effects of certain immunizations and vaccines. Thus far there exists no cure, save for the temporary relief of facelifts or Botox injections that many sufferers of this strange disorder resort to.
4. Tree Man Disease
Epidermodysplasia Verruciformis—quite the mouthful—is otherwise known as Tree Man Disease. It’s a hereditary skin disorder that causes large and numerous warts, lesions, and scaly papules to grow on the skin, particularly the hands and feet, sometimes at so extreme a rate that the sufferer is left completely deformed. One particular case of this condition was so advanced that it received much media attention. Indonesian man Dede Koswara was so deformed by the symptoms of this condition that his arms and legs resembled the bark and roots of a tree. Due to this, he was dubbed “The Tree Man”, hence the nickname given to the debilitating condition. While there is no known cure for this disease, there do exist effective treatments that help control breakouts.
3. Mermaid Syndrome
Mermaid syndrome is a rare condition that causes a foetus’s legs to fuse together in the womb, forming a sort of ‘mermaid’s tail’. Approximately 1 in 100,000 babies are born with this illness, but most do not live long after birth. Suffers of mermaid syndrome often die from kidney and bladder complications and in many cases, babies born with this syndrome do not have bladders at all. There have, however, been survivors who have lived for several years with the condition, though none have ever reached adulthood.
Elephantiasis is a parasitic infection that causes rapid and extreme growth of the limbs or genitals in humans. Its effects are truly horrific: body parts that swell up to gigantic proportions. The most common cause of elephantiasis is through infectious, blood-sucking mosquitoes that carry parasitic, thread-like worms. The worms cause blockages in the lymphatic system that results in the unusual swelling of body parts. The World Health Organization reports that over 120 million people worldwide are currently infected with this debilitating disease with about 40 million horribly disfigured by it. Most of these cases occur in tropical locations. There is no known cure although preventative vaccinations do exist to help combat the spread of this monstrous infection.
1. Stone Man’s Disease
Stone Man’s Disease is officially called fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP) and it’s one of the most crippling disease known to medicine: it causes bone to grow into ligaments, joints, muscles, and other connective tissue. A person infected with FOP will literally experience their insides transform into bone. FOP is a rare, genetic disease and 1 person in 2 million people is born with it. There are 800 confirmed cases of FOP around the world and unfortunately, there is no cure.