Walking corpse syndrome. Alien hand syndrome. Werewolf syndrome. They sound like conditions straight out of Halloween horror films, not medical literature. But, in fact, these rare mental and physical health conditions are real-life afflictions that strike thousands of people.
Here’s a closer look at 10 of the strangest disorders doctors have diagnosed, according to Psychology Today, Live Science, and other scientific and medical sources:
Walking corpse syndrome: People with this mental disorder, also known as Cotard’s Delusion, wake up one day believing that they are missing their brain or other body parts, their flesh is rotting away or they are dead. Due to a cerebral disconnect between facial recognition and emotion, they lose all sense of self and may stop eating and bathing. Some even like to hang out in cemeteries, doctors report. The disorder was first described in 1880 by the French neurologist for whom the syndrome is named — Jules Cotard — Psychology Today reports.
Werewolf syndrome: About 50 people in the world have congenital hypertrichosis, a genetic mutation causes thick hair to grow all over the body — including the face. Sometimes called werewolf syndrome, the condition is often accompanied by gingival hyperplasia — an enlargement of gum tissue that can make it look as though sufferers have no teeth. In the past, some individuals afflicted with this disorder were featured at circus sideshows, the most famed being Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy.
Vampire syndromes: Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) is an extreme sensitivity to sunlight caused by a recessive mutation. It cripples enzymes that repair DNA from ultraviolet light exposure and results in blistering sunburns, the breakdown of epidermal tissue, and various forms of skin cancer. XP sufferers can’t tolerate any sunlight — hence the comparison to vampires. Myth and reality may actually meet in anyone who also has Renfield’s Syndrome, a psychological compulsion to drink blood.
Alien hand syndrome: A rift in communication between lobes of the brain can cause loss of control over one hand. Like the Addams Family’s “Thing,” the hand seems to have a mind of its own and moves independently of its owner’s ability to control it. In extreme cases, it can cause self-inflicted injuries through punching or choking.
Stone man syndrome: The genetic disorder fibrodysplasia ossificans progressive causes soft tissue to harden into bone over time. The process that normally transforms children’s cartilage into bone goes haywire, ossifying muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Most victims die from respiratory failure when bone forms in the rib cage, preventing it from expanding for breathing.
Tree man syndrome: A bizarre reaction to two usually harmless types of human papilloma virus causes bark-like warts to grow uncontrollably in some people. The hereditary condition, epidermodysplasia verruciformis, has no cure. And even when the warts are surgically removed, they tend to grow back.
Blue man syndrome: If you see someone with blue skin, it could be the genetic disorder methemoglobinemia, which inhibits the absorption of oxygen in the blood. That turns the blood’s color from red to brown, and the skin blue. Taking too much colloidal silver can do the same thing, as was the case with Paul Karason, who gained some notoriety as “Papa Smurf” — a nickname given to him by tabloid newspapers — before his death in 2013.
Harlequin baby syndrome: Infants born with a rare type of ichthyosis condition have very hard, thick skin that grows in diamond-shaped plates. It looks like armor but, sadly, can’t protect them against dehydration and infection. Even with modern day medical care, kids afflicted with the disorder rarely make it to adolescence.
Systematic capillary leak syndrome: In this odd ailment, also called Clarkson’s Disease, blood vessels start leaking plasma. It gets sopped up by spongy tissue in the skin and organs, causing people to swell up like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. The good news is that it is temporary, typically lasting about three days. The bad news? It can kill if a vital organ pops. Oh, and once you get it, you’re likely to get it again…and again…and again…
Fish odor syndrome: This condition really stinks! The genetic metabolism disorder formally known as trimethylaminuria interferes with protein digestion, causing the person to smell like rotting fish. There’s no cure, but symptoms can be alleviated by adhering to a low protein diet – and using a lot of cologne.
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