For anyone who’s ever felt apprehensive about a visit to the doctors because of a slightly embarrassing body issue, this list of bizarre medical marvels ought to put your own issues into perspective! When it comes to diseases, we assume doctors and research scientists have seen it all and can offer us some kind of reassurance—no such luck for any of the following patients. These conditions are incredibly rare and have baffled the greatest medical minds on the planet must only increase the sense of isolation felt by the sufferers.
Some of these include mental and behavioural disorders, others are physical deformities unlike anything you may have seen before. From newborn babies with protruding intestines to waking up with a completely different accent, this is a pretty disturbing collection of disorders indeed. Scientific progression has seen some incredible medical breakthroughs in recent years and made the impossible possible, but science may have it’s work cut out with some of these conditions. Sadly, many of the diseases on the list are incurable and the ones that are can be incredibly difficult to diagnose.
Many of these afflictions wouldn’t look out of place in a horror movie. Some are so out-of-this-world and bizarre that they continue to puzzle scientists to this day. Imagine having a disease that actually defies scientific explanation? Not exactly the words you’d like to hear when you go for a physical. Here are 15 unbelievably strange and extraordinary diseases around the world that have left scientists flabbergasted.
15. ‘Benjamin Button’ Syndrome
For anyone who remembers the 2008 Brad Pitt film of the same name, this disease operates in a fairly similar way. But whereas Benjamin Button becomes younger with his intellect intact, patients with Leukodystrophies suffer from a decline in their mental development due to a lack of white matter in the brain. Because of this, they can go from normal adulthood to becoming a child again in terms of their thought process and intellectual ability.
Most cases are genetic, but in rare cases, leukodystrophies can afflict people spontaneously – even those in good health who have reached adulthood naturally. The disease is so progressive and complex that treatment is typically limited to helping patients manage their symptoms, which often include difficulty eating, weakened muscles and various behavioural problems.
14. Genital Hysteria
While this sounds more like the title of a porn movie (or the name of a heavy metal band), this is indeed an actual condition — and a pretty scary one at that. It isn’t just pubescent young women who obsess over the size, shape and overall condition of their private parts, men can suffer from this too.
This disturbing disorder can have young men and boys convinced that their manhood is somehow shrinking or retracting back inside their bodies. Some cases even reported fears that their genitals were missing altogether! One particular case in 1967 – known somewhat hilariously as ‘The Great Singapore Penis Panic’ – saw almost a hundred men flock to the doctors in the same day claiming that their penises were retracting. Most doctors have dismissed genital hysteria as a form of ‘penis envy’ anxiety caused by our modern culture. Yikes.
13. Gruesome Birth Defect
This isn’t like a child being born with an extra finger or webbed feet, this birth defect is fairly gory, so you have been warned. Babies with the defect known as Gastroschisis are born with their intestines protruding through a hole in their stomach. Sometimes, other organs such as the liver and stomach itself have been found to protrude through the abdomen of a newborn.
Despite the fact gastroschisis affects nearly 2,000 babies a year in the US, doctors are still baffled as to the cause and what’s particularly frightening — this horrendous phenomenon is on the rise. In 18 years leading up to 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported an astonishing 263% increase in cases of gastroschisis among babies born to young African American mothers. Research is still yet to determine a solid cause or who stands at greater risk of passing on this defect.
12. Sleeping Sickness
Similar to narcolepsy (but much scarier), this disturbing sleeping disorder impacts around 5 million people all over the world between 1917 and the late 1920’s. People suffering from this extreme deep sleep or Encephalitis Lethargica would fall into a slumber that lasted for an indeterminate amount of time and awoke only to be frozen in their bodies, like statues.
Many patients died from this sleeping sickness and those that survived showed signs of symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease. Rare cases even committed self-mutilation. Due to the outbreak so soon after the First World War, many doctors thought some cases were a neurological coping method for adjusting to normal life, or a viral infection picked up from the Front Line. The sickness afflicted patients in different ways and 100 years later, doctors still can’t make sense of this nightmarish disease.
11. Teenage Kicks
Tics and spasms are something we see commonly in those living with Tourette’s Syndrome, which can affect people of all ages. But what about tics that are limited to teenagers? This curiously specific form of tics was first noticed in 2011, in both male and female students at a New York high school and manifested symptoms like head jerking, speech stammers and flailing arms.
Mentally and physically, our teenage years are a pretty turbulent time. We’re coping with so many changes while attempting to figure out who we are (deep, I know). In light of this, perhaps, psychologists have suggested that the teenage tics may could be linked to stress, in a condition theorized as ‘conversion disorder.’ In other words, internal stress erupts outwards in the form of verbal and physical tics. Had this happened to me, I may have needed full-body armour the night before an exam!
10. ‘Stone Man’ syndrome
As a superhero character, this may be an attribute, but for those who suffer from ‘Stone man’ syndrome, this is an incredibly painful and debilitating condition. The medical term for this cruel syndrome is Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progesiva or FOP, which means that a person’s muscle tissue can effectively turn into bone.
Since bones can appear in place of normal muscle tissue, patients can eventually find themselves struggling to move. On top of experiencing mobility issues, those with tissue affected in their face and jaw muscles can also experience difficulty eating and speaking – hence the name ‘stone man’ as this horrifically cruel condition makes people prisoners in their own bodies. The condition is so rare – affecting only 1 in every 2 million newborns – that so much is still unknown about it.
9. Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome
Patients with Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome (also known as CVS) have previously described the syndrome as “absolute hell” and reported feeling so horrendous during some attacks that they wanted to die. CVS consists (as you may have guessed) of unrelenting waves of extreme nausea and vomiting for no apparent reason. Episodes of nausea can last for hours and even days.
Pregnant women with an extreme form of morning sickness (Hyperemesis Gravidarum), experience very similar symptoms of intense nausea attacks and severe dehydration, but CVS can occur seemingly without an underlying cause. Symptoms are so severe that some instances can cause tooth decay and a life-threatening tear of the esophagus. Around three in every 1,000 births have been diagnosed with CVS and treatment may only be able to relieve symptoms for sufferers.
8. RPI Deficiency (The World’s Rarest Disease)
The disease known as RPI deficiency was said to have been suffered by only one patient in history—officially making it the rarest disease in history. The RPI enzyme in our bodies (Ribose 5 Phosphate Isomerase) is pretty much the driving force behind our metabolism. As a result, the energy and overall development of a patient with RPI deficiency would be fairly poor.
The only patient on record to suffer from this disease showed signs of defects in his brain’s white matter. He also suffered with epilepsy and severe optic nerve damage. Since no other case of RPI deficiency is known to exist in the world or throughout medical history, the research of neurologists and physicians can only stretch so far. It’s quite possible that there may never be an accurate prognosis for this disease.
7. Complete Facial Paralysis
This rare and awful disorder known as Moebius syndrome occurs from birth and is only present in up to 20 out of every 20 million births. Because the syndrome causes almost complete facial paralysis, patients can appear to drool frequently and have very limited blinking ability. Heartbreakingly for patients and their guardians, these symptoms can give people the impression this disorder is caused by a mental impairment.
Most cases of Moebius syndrome have suggested that the disorder is a result of a traumatic pregnancy or the mother’s use of drugs containing abortion-inducing properties. Treatment exists in the form of therapy to help patients improve their motor skills and specialised eye drops to prevent severe corneal erosion. As yet, however, the only long-term cure for facial paralysis is smile restoration surgery.
6. Foreign Accent Syndrome
How is it possible to suddenly speak flawlessly in an accent entirely different from your own? This is what scientists and the world have been asking themselves since this bizarre neurological disorder came to light. Foreign Accent Syndrome has been seen in post-stroke victims but also in those who have undergone dental surgery and it’s a pretty bizarre thing to behold.
One of the first cases involved a Norwegian woman who sustained a head injury during WWII and began to speak with a noticeable German accent. Famously, a more recent case of FAS has been an American mother who, despite being born and raised in Texas, woke up from jaw surgery to hear herself speaking in a perfect British accent! Although most cases involve patients who have sustained brain trauma as the result of a stroke or accident, scientists still have much to learn about this fascinating speech disorder.
This is every bit as gruesome as it sounds. Lesch-Nyhan syndrome is caused by a deficient metabolism enzyme, but unlike RPI deficiency, this disorder comes with an extra disturbing side effect. In addition to suffering with inflammatory arthritis and severe muscle impairment, patients with LNS also display many erratic behavioural problems – the worst of which involves self-injury, often by biting themselves to death.
This symptom of LNS can be so severe that patients are often kept in restraints throughout their lives and in some cases, individuals even need to have their teeth extracted to prevent them from literally eating themselves away. What is particularly strange about LNS is that it seems to only occur in males, and there is no clue as to why. Regrettably, the disease is still lacking anything close to a cure.
4. Brainerd Diarrhea
Any affliction involving diarrhea can’t be good, but imagine a condition that brings on periods of diarrhea every day for up to a year? This may be too horrible to contemplate, but for the sake of science, let’s get to the facts. There have been around ten outbreaks of brainerd diarrhea since the early 1980’s, the first of which occurred in Brainerd, Minnesota involving 122 poor, poor people.
Depending on how bad you get it, people can experience 10 to 20 bouts of the trots daily for weeks or even months on end and this can include symptoms of nausea, cramps and fatigue (unsurprising when you consider how long you may have to spend on the toilet). The cause is not definitive but has been linked to a consumption of raw, unpasteurized milk. Nasty…
3. Inability to Feel Pain
At first glance, this sounds great, almost like a superpower. But life is about the yin and yang – pain and pleasure, and the ability to feel pain is an evolutionary advantage of ours. After all, if we couldn’t feel pain, we would never be aware of the dangers we could put ourselves in. This is the dilemma for the parents of children like Gabby Gingras who developed Hereditary Sensory Autonomic Neuropathy (HSAN) as a baby.
Gabby’s parents first noticed something was odd when she was teething and her tooth fell out without a fuss. Without the ability to feel pain, Gabby has since lost all her teeth and her left eye due to a badly scratched cornea. An inability to feel any pain sensation has meant Gabby had to wear protective gear every day of her life as a little girl. The number of patients with HSAN is currently unknown, but Gabby’s parents have found a small group of sufferers with the help of a foundation set up to support her and others.
2. Eyes Wide Shut
There’s something truly disturbing about this condition, as it can literally plunge you into complete darkness for days and can strike at any time. 31 year-old Natalie Adler from Australia, experiences a strange cycle that has plagued her since her teens — her eyes clamp shut for three days and after the third day, she’s able to open her eyes again.
On top of this frightening, temporary blindness, Adler’s accompanying symptoms of nausea and neck pain have resulted from her leaning back in order for her to see out of a thin slit at the bottom of her left eye! Adler has apparently seen neurologists and had multiple psychiatric assessments but no medical professional can link her symptoms to any known cause.
1. Constant Hiccups
Hiccups are a mild annoyance if they last as long as an afternoon, but imagine hiccuping non-stop for years or sometimes decades? This is the sad reality for some whose attack of hiccups have disrupted their eating habits, speech and daily life for reasons still unknown to science.
A recording-breaking case of unending hiccups was with Charles Osborne, a man from Iowa who began hiccuping in 1922 and didn’t stop until 1990 (a year before his death). Elsewhere, British woman, Lisa Graves began hiccuping constantly after giving birth in 2008. Grave’s says she often hiccups 100 times a day and describes them as loud enough to disrupt her sleep. Hiccuping occurs in the first place when our diaphragm muscles are irritated and contract irregularly. As for something that could irritate them for years? Science is still none the wiser.