According to a leading rare disease patient advocacy organisation called Global Genes, there are around 7,000 types of rare diseases and disorders that are being uncovered every day.
You may have heard of some “rare” conditions like acute myeloid leukemia and esophageal cancer but these other disorders that are so bizarre, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were fabricated by an eccentric film writer.
Alice in Wonderland syndrome
This condition is named after Lewis Caroll’s classic books, Alice in Wonderland, where the brain disorder impairs a person’s perception of size just like when Alice finds herself growing and shrinking in the book, writes Honor Whiteman of MNT.
Also known as Todd’s syndrome or lilliputian hallucinations, people with the condition can perceive body parts or external objects to be bigger or smaller than they actually are and it’s usually more common at night. No one knows what causes AIWS, however, epilepsy, brain tumours, use of psychoactive medications, and Epstein-barr virus have been associated with development of the condition. The disorder is most common among children, often disappearing by the time they reach adolescence. However, it can persist into adulthood.
Around 60 percent of the human body is made up of water, but believe it or not, there are people who are allergic to it. Known as aquagenic urticaria, those who have this condition rapidly develop itchy hives after their skin comes into contact with water, particularly on the neck, arms, and upper trunk of the body.
This means they can’t take a bath or shower, go swimming, or go outside in the rain. Even crying can lead to a breakout of hives for some individuals, and in rare cases, drinking water can trigger an allergic reaction. The underlying causes are unclear, but some researchers believe the condition arises as a result of substances that have dissolved in water, which enter the skin and activate an immune response.
Walking corpse syndrome
If it sounds like The Walking Dead, it’s because there are similarities. The Walking corpse syndrome or Cotard’s syndrome was first described by Parisian neurologist Dr. Jules Cotard 1882 as a mental disorder whereby a person believes they are missing body parts, or that they have lost their soul or died.
They may avoid eating and drinking, thinking they do not need to because they believe they don’t exist, and their day-to-day activities often include visiting cemeteries, in order to be closer to death. They may also neglect their personal hygiene and physical health.
In the Psychiatry journal in 2008, a 53-year-old woman complained to her family that she smelt like rotting flesh. She then requested to be taken to a morgue in order to be in the company of other dead individuals, leading her to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
In a New Scientist publication in 2013, a patient named Graham said he thought that he no longer had a brain and when researchers from the United Kingdom and Belgium scanned his brain, they were stunned to find that it resembled that of someone who is in a vegetative state, even when he was wide awake. “I’ve been analysing PET scans for 15 years and I’ve never seen anyone who was on his feet, who was interacting with people, with such an abnormal scan result,” said study co-author Steven Laureys, of the University of Liège in Belgium. “Graham’s brain function resembles that of someone during anaesthesia or sleep. Seeing this pattern in someone who is awake is quite unique to my knowledge.”
Stone man syndrome
The stone man syndrome a.ka. fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), is a genetic condition in which muscle and connective tissue – such as ligaments and tendons – regenerate as bone in response to damage, gradually forming a second skeleton and causing immobility.
Deformed big toes is often the first symptom of stone man syndrome, followed by joint stiffness, movement problems, and respiratory difficulties.
Stone man syndrome is caused by a mutation in the gene that controls cell growth and proliferation in muscles and connective tissue.
Alien hand syndrome
This condition might remind you of “Thing” from The Addams Family, but it is a very real medical condition, known as alien hand syndrome (AHS). AHS is a rare motor disorder characterised by involuntary, yet purposeful activity in one hand. For example, a person with the condition may start buttoning their shirt with one hand, while the other hand unbuttons it without them realising. Occasionally, patients may also experience involuntary movements in one of their legs, termed alien leg phenomena.
There have been reports of people with the condition spontaneously hitting and slapping themselves, while some patients have even reported that their out-of-control hand tries to choke them.
In the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry in 1998, an 81-year-old woman reported that she “feared” her left hand, after it repeatedly hit her and attempted to strangle her.
AHS may arise as a result of lesions in areas of the brain involved in motor control, planning, and sensory relay, including the corpus callosum, and the frontal, parietal, and occipital lobes. Such lesions may occur after stroke, through neurodegenerative illnesses – such as Alzheimer’s disease – brain tumors, and seizures. Certain forms of brain surgery have also been reported to trigger AHS.