The human body has always been a source of fascination. Even with the advances in science and technology today, there are still a number of bizarre medical disorders that sound like the stuff of nightmares and Hollywood blockbusters.
As the top hospital in the Philippines, Makati Medical Center (MakatiMed) seeks to bring attention to several medical disorders you might not know about. “Many of these conditions are rare and may seem unthinkable, but they are very real and affect many lives,” says Juancho Alfredo D. Las, MD, Section Chief of General Medicine.
Some affect the mind in a chilling way. For example, Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (also known as Todd’s Syndrome) often causes migraines that distort a person’s body image, leading to perceived changes in head, hand, and foot size. Patients may encounter hallucinations and a distorted sense of time moving too quickly or slowly. “While there is no established treatment for the syndrome yet, migraine prophylaxis and adopting a migraine diet that’s rich in magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids is said to offer some relief,” explains Dr. Las.
Walking Corpse Syndrome or Cotard’s Syndrome makes people believe they are dead or missing their soul, organs, blood, or body parts. This disorder is linked to brain areas responsible for recognizing and associating emotions with faces. “Patients will have trouble recognizing even their own face and this can lead to complete emotional detachment when individuals look at their own bodies,” notes Dr. Las. “This can occur with severe depression and some psychotic conditions, so treatment options may focus on these.”
MakatiMed also points out that some of these mythical-like maladies manifest physically. Werewolf Syndrome or hypertrichosis leads to the excessive production of hair all over the body. Causes can differ like health conditions like HIV/AIDS, eating disorders, polycystic ovary syndrome, and juvenile hypothyroidism or some medications such as anticonvulsants, vasodilators ,and photosensitizers. “This means treatment options can also differ depending on the cause of the abnormal hair growth. Sometimes laser hair removal and electrolysis are recommended to slow down growth or remove hair permanently,” adds Dr. Las.
Genetic mutations can cause Stoneman Syndrome or fibrodysplasia ossificans progressive where the body’s connective tissues like muscles, tendons, and ligaments ossify as if they turn into bones. “It’s an ultra rare disorder that stands as the sole known medical condition where one organ system undergoes a transformation into another, restricting movements and deforming the spine,” states Dr. Las. “While it has no concrete and effective cure, certain treatments can be provided to help address pain and swelling.”
Another disorder that seems straight out of a horror flick is Vampire Disease, an illness that includes symptoms such as skin that is sensitive to sunlight, shrinking gums that bare one’s teeth, and reddish-purplish urine. “It is also known as porphyria and stems from the production of porphyrin, which can affect both the nervous system and the skin,” mentions Dr. Las. “The condition is usually inherited and symptoms differ in severity. Poryphia can’t be cured, so treatments focus more on managing the symptoms.”
Alien Hand Syndrome often involves underlying neurological problems. People with this problem experience their limbs, usually a hand, moving involuntarily as if with a mind of its own. “Because the illness is so rare, there’s no widely accepted treatment. But some people found that doing certain tasks and exercises help alleviate symptoms,” says Dr. Las.
Then there’s sleep paralysis or Old Hag Syndrome as some describe the feeling as having a witch perched on your chest. The condition involves waking up without being able to move or speak, causing intense feelings of terror and panic. “Stress, anxiety, and trauma are often triggers for sleep paralysis,” shares Dr. Las. “Though occasional sleep paralysis isn’t a problem, it can be treated with improved sleep hygiene or habits like setting a bedtime schedule and practicing a nightly routine that can help you relax like dimming lights and unplugging from devices, and even cognitive behavioral therapy if necessary.”
While many of these bizarre ailments can be disabling, they can be managed and even treated with an early diagnosis. “This serves as a reminder for everyone to be more cognizant of their bodies and their health. Get an annual health check if you can. If you are feeling strange to the point that it interferes with your daily life, it’s best to consult with your doctor right away,” suggests Dr. Las.