Occam's razor is a concept that is used to help during the problem-solving process. Occam's razor states that the simplest explanation to a problem is likely the correct one. In the field of medicine, a form of Occam's razor exists in which health care professionals learn that "if you hear hoofbeats think horses, not zebras."
What this means is that when you have a list of symptoms from a patient, think of the most common reason that this person has the symptoms they are showing. Don't automatically assume that the patient has the worst possible disease for those symptoms. One example of this would be when a patient visits a doctor and complains of a headache and sensitivity to light and sound. This patient likely is suffering from a migraine even though those symptoms would also be present in a brain tumor.
The field of medicine has been changing and evolving since man first appeared on Earth. Over the course of millions of years, humans have been able to understand and cure many diseases that used to be fatal. Even though we know so much about what can hurt and kill us, some conditions still make doctors scratch their heads in wonder. Sometimes, the hoofbeats are zebras.
Pica is a condition where a person will consume items that have no value nutritionally to the human body. Items that a person with pica will eat are paint, soil, money, and paper. Since a person with pica will put things in their body that is not food, they risk creating problems such as ruptures and tears to organs responsible for digestion. Pica patients also will exhibit signs of malnourishment. Pica is a disorder that usually starts during childhood and last less than a year. The disease can last longer in children who have mental deficiencies. Treatment for this illness will often include psychological interventions.
Alice in Wonderland syndrome is a disorder where the brain interprets something different than what the eyes are seeing. A person suffering from AIWS will believe that they are seeing items or people shrink or grow right before their eyes. Someone with this disorder will also develop signs of a psychotic breakdown due to the hallucinations that they are seeing. Auditory and tactile hallucinations are also common with AIWS. Alice in Wonderland syndrome is usually a symptom of people who have a history of migraine headaches or epilepsy. The name of the disorder was due to the experiences that Alice had in Alice in Wonderland.
Alien hand syndrome is a disorder impacting the brain. One or both hands of the person suffering from the disease appear to have a life of their own. The cause of alien hand syndrome is thought to be the result of a surgical procedure to fix or eliminate epileptic seizures, stroke, or injuries to particular parts of the brain that control arm and hand movement. People who have experienced this rare condition have said that it feels like their hand or hands were not under their control. The public first became aware of this alien hand syndrome thanks to the movie Dr. Strangelove, who had the disorder.
People who have congenital insensitivity to pain can't feel pain. Some people may think that being unable to feel pain would be a gift, but instead it is a curse. Pain is the body's way of telling the brain that something is wrong. The brain would then send signals to the proper spots in the body so that the person can remove themselves from whatever is causing the pain. Since the brain never gets the signal to remove a person from what is causing the pain, people with CIP tend to injure themselves much more than a person who can feel pain. A person with this condition needs to check themselves multiple times a day to make sure they do not show any signs of broken bones, internal bleeding, and other injuries that could be fatal if left unchecked. Confirmed cases of congenital insensitivity to pain total less than 100.
Aquagenic urticaria, allergy to water, is a disease that causes the skin to break out in a rash or hives after a person comes into direct contact with water. When a person with aquagenic urticaria washes, the rash that develops from contact with the water can last up to two hours. Aquagenic urticaria impacts females more than males, and the onset of the disease starts around the same time as puberty begins. What we know about aquagenic urticaria is not much due to the rarity of the condition. No cure exists, but the use of antihistamines, phototherapy, steroids, and topical creams have shown some success in controlling the hives and rash that the patient develops.
Cotard's syndrome is a psychological disorder where the person afflicted believes that they are dead. The mental delusion is so powerful that people with Cotard's syndrome believe that their skin is rotting off their bones, they are losing organs and body parts, and also think that they are suffering from severe blood loss. People with Cotard's also do not believe that other people can see them. They think they are dead among the living. Injuries in the brain that control emotion and facial recognition are considered to cause Cotard's. There is no cure for Cotard's. Treatment consists of anti-depression and anti-psychotic drugs along with electroshock therapy.
Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva turns the soft tissues of the body (tendons, ligaments, and cartilage) into bone. As the soft tissues become solidified, mobility starts to deteriorate. The solidification process begins at the neck and slowly works its way down throughout the rest of the body. This process commences in childhood. As the disease progresses, breathing problems develop due to the soft tissues around the ribs turning into bone. Since bone is not flexible, the lungs become compressed and taking a full breath becomes almost impossible. Those who suffer from this condition become a type of living statue. Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva patients do not usually live past the age of 40.
Kleine-Levin syndrome is one of two sleeping disorders in this list. People who have this condition have "episodes" in which they will sleep for up to 21 hours a day. Each "episode" can last from anywhere between a week and a month. There is almost no warning for when the symptoms will present themselves, which makes planning for this condition virtually impossible. As quickly as an episode of Kleine-Levin syndrome comes on, it ends just as fast. Also known as Sleeping Beauty sickness, it ironically is more prevalent in males than females. Up to 70 percent of people who have KLS are men. Although the cause of Klein-Levin is not known, it is theorized that a deficiency in the thalamus is the root of the problem. Information on Klein-Levin syndrome is scarce due to how rare the disease is. KLS impacts one person in a million. Even more puzzling is the fact that Klein-Levin syndrome spontaneously resolves itself 8 to 13 years after the person has their first episode of the illness.
Fatal familial insomnia is the second of the two sleep disorders on the list, and almost the most bizarre medical condition on this list. FFI is disorder in the brain and is a prion disease. A prion disease, at the most fundamental level, is a disease where there is an error in the folding of specific proteins in the proper way. A genetic mutation of the PRNP gene, the gene that tells the prion protein what shape to fold into, is considered to be the cause of FFI. In this disease, the proteins bunch together and form clumps. Symptoms usually show themselves for the first time during middle age. The primary symptom, which you can probably guess, is insomnia. The patient's insomnia does not improve over time. In fact, the patient's insomnia gets progressively worse. The outlook for patients that have this genetic disease is grim. Fatal familial insomnia has no cure or treatment to slow down the progress of the disease. Once symptoms emerge for the first time, death can be expected within 12 to 16 months.
The number one strangest disease that you have never heard of is the jumping Frenchmen of Maine. The disorder is similar to the fainting goats because the Frenchmen jump and goats faint due to an overly developed startle reflex. The cause is not known, but the most popular theory is that it is a type of psychiatric disorder brought on through operant conditioning that is specific to the culture of the Frenchmen. When a jumping Frenchman is startled, reactions can be swearing, repeating a word or phrase like a parrot, copying the behavior of someone nearby, and following through on commands such as run, punch, or jump. These people would not blindly respond to these simple commands, but when they are startled, they will. Symptoms of the jumping Frenchmen of Maine disorder begin to present themselves during puberty. A person with this affliction will see symptoms subside as the person ages.
Sources: Pica, Alien Hand Syndrome, Aquagenic Urticaria, Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, Fatal familial insomnia, Alice In Wonderland Syndrome, Congenital Insensitivity To Pain, Cotard's Syndrome, Kleine-Levin Syndrome, Jumping Frenchmen Of Maine