The Weirdest Diseases We Hope You Never Have To Live Through

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome Is A Disease Like No Other People with Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, or AIWS, don’t have to eat a magic cake or… Trista - February 14, 2023

Many of us are familiar with common diseases like heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s, but some medical conditions sound like they belong in a science fiction novel. These strange disorders can make you believe that you’re dead or give you an accent you’ve never had before. Although they are rare, up to 1 in 10 Americans live with sporadic diseases, and learning about these fascinating conditions can offer insight into the complexity of the human body and mind. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the weirdest diseases in the world, and although you may hope to never experience them, their stories and symptoms are sure to captivate and intrigue you.

Daily Mail

A Disease That Gives You Such Bad Insomnia, You Could Die

If you’ve ever had a sleepless night, you might be able to understand just how hard it is on the brain and body. Our bodies need sleep to survive. Rest heals the brain and the muscles of the body, so we can continue living, but fatal familial insomnia affects the thalamus, the part of the brain regulating sleeping and waking. Symptoms typically begin in adulthood, but the onset ranges from 13-60. Starting gradually and worsening over time, fatal familial insomnia is passed down through autosomal dominant inheritance. It often begins with insomnia, but as the condition progresses, it also leads to panic attacks, paranoia, and phobias. This stage typically lasts for about four months. But it doesn’t stop there. Hallucinations begin, and panic attacks become more frequent for about five months. The complete inability to sleep follows and lasts for about three months. Dementia, leaving the person unresponsive or mute over six months, is the final stage of the disease, followed by death.

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A Disease That Makes You Think You’re Dead

Although zombies are often thought of as just a product of science fiction, some people actually suffer from a condition known as Cotard’s delusion, where they believe that they are dead and decaying, or that parts of their body are missing. This can lead to refusal to eat or bathe, and concerns that washing will cause fragile body parts to wash away. The cause of this disease is believed to be a malfunction in the brain regions responsible for recognizing emotions, leading to a sense of detachment. Fortunately, medication is available to treat Cotard’s syndrome, which was first described by Dr. Jules Cotard in 1882. Most cases are found in patients with mood disorders, psychotic disorders, or other medical conditions, and electroconvulsive therapy is sometimes more effective than medication alone. With only around 200 reported cases worldwide, Cotard’s syndrome is an extremely rare condition.

Alexandra Allen

This Disease Makes You Allergic To Water

You’d think it would be impossible to have a water allergy. We all need to survive, but aquagenic urticaria, or water allergy, is very real. This disease usually causes rashes, hives, and sometimes itching after the skin comes in contact with water. Then, the rash disappears within 30-60 minutes when they remove the water from the skin. This disease mostly affects women. However, the exact underlying cause of aquagenic urticaria is currently unknown. The reaction occurs regardless of the type or temperature of the water. In many cases, swelling can result in the oral cavity after drinking water, and in some cases can cause anaphylaxis. They most often occur on the neck and arms but can present anywhere on the body. Doctors usually diagnose aquagenic urticaria using a water test. Since avoiding water is nearly impossible, people manage this disease with antihistamines, topical agents, UV light therapy, and injectable medication

ABC News

A Disease That Makes You Literally Feel Others’ Pain

Our brains contain mirror neurons, which is why we often cry when seeing someone else’s tears. However, people with mirror-touch synesthesia have highly reactive mirror neurons. This makes their responses much more extreme. This condition can cause people to literally feel the sensations when they watch another person being touched. Anything can cause this response in people who have mirror-touch synesthesia. They can feel an itch another person is scratching or even the weight of another person’s glasses on their nose. Currently, no diagnostic tests are available to aid in diagnosing mirror-touch synesthesia. Furthermore, the condition does not appear in the current 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) that psychiatrists use to diagnose disorders such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, and more. Researchers are trying to find tests and tools to help doctors make diagnoses more consistently, but nobody has fully developed any at this time


A Disease Where Your Hand Takes On A Mind Of Its Own

Alien hand syndrome is a fascinating but rare neurological disorder in which a person’s hand appears to take on a life of its own, moving and acting independently without conscious control. Individuals with this condition often experience involuntary movements, such as grasping or manipulating objects, and can feel as though their limb is acting against their will. Although the exact cause of the disorder is unknown, it is believed to be related to a breakdown in communication between different regions of the brain responsible for controlling movement and awareness. While treatment options are limited, physical therapy, medication, and even surgery may be used to manage symptoms and improve quality of life for those affected by this mysterious disorder.


This Disease Makes You Speak In A Foreign Accent

Sufferers of this disease just randomly wake up one day and start speaking with a foreign accent. Foreign accent syndrome is sporadic. Only 60 cases exist. Doctors originally thought patients were delusional or even faking it. Until scientists at Oxford University discovered that sufferers shared similar brain abnormalities that resulted in changes to their pitch and syllables, speech may be altered in terms of timing, intonation, and tongue placement and often sounds foreign. Foreign accent syndrome has been documented worldwide, including in Japan, England, Spain, and the US. A stroke or other traumatic brain injuries usually cause FAS. People with foreign accent syndrome often have not even heard the accent they developed before. In only 12.5% of cases, patients had previous exposure to the accent they later developed due to FAS. H. Whitaker first coined the term Foreign Accent Syndrome in 1982, but they don’t use much of his diagnostic criteria today.


A Disease That Makes You Crave Dirt Or Other Non-Edible Items

We’re not talking about when a kid puts grass or toys in their mouth. Pica involves craving and actually ingesting non-food items. This condition may be due to an iron or zinc deficiency. Research says it’s more common in children than adults. Pica can cause problems with the teeth and digestive system, but pregnant women are among the most likely groups to suffer from the disease. Other non-food items people with Pica may crave or even eat include dirt, paper, crayons, paint chips, and even feces. Health problems occur when kids or adults with Pica ingest the things they crave, and this can lead to iron-deficiency anemia, lead poisoning, constipation, and intestinal infection or obstruction. Researchers link Pica to developmental problems such as autism, mental health problems like OCD or schizophrenia, malnutrition, and stress. When Pica presents in children, it usually improves as the child ages. Doctors can help parents manage and stop pica-related behaviors by working with parents to prevent kids from gaining access to the non-food things they eat.


This Disease That Makes You Grow Fibers/Threads From Your Skin

Imagine feeling like bugs are crawling on you but also have multi-colored fibers or threads from skin lesions. This is the reality for people with Morgellons disease. According to research, those with Morgellons disease produce thread-like fibers due to a bacterial infection. The sores and lesions are often painful and itchy. The crawling sensation and lesions come with fatigue, depression, difficulty concentrating, and even short-term memory loss. While doctors once thought sufferers could be delusional, research suggests this bizarre condition might be related to tick-borne illnesses. However, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2012, parasites or infections do not cause this condition. Their study of 115 people showed that most of the fibers in the skin sores could be fabric fibers caught in sores formed by repeated itching rather than fibers emerging from the skin.


A Disease That Makes You Allergic To Electricity

As society and technology advance, there has been an uptick in the diversity of electromagnetic field (EMF) sources. Computers, mobile phones, and their towers emit EMF. While these devices enhance our lives, making them safer and easier, they carry health risks. EHS, or Electromagnetic hypersensitivity, is used for sensitivity to EMF emissions. People who suffer from EHS experience headaches, fatigue, sleep disturbances, pain, and burning rashes when they are in contact with EMF. These people don’t have to be exposed to high levels of EMF to have this reaction. Most of them are well under internationally accepted standards. Patients have reported a variety of health problems that they relate to exposure to EMF. Most show mild symptoms, but some react so severely that they must stop working and change their entire lifestyle. We’re not sure how common EHS is in the general population yet. One survey of self-help groups gave an estimate of approximately 10% of reported cases of EHS being considered severe.

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A Disease That Turns You Into A Vampire

What could Vincent Van Gogh and King George III of England have in common? Both men had crazy mood swings that some theorize resulted from porphyria, a rare disease that causes the body to fail to produce heme. Heme is a protein that helps cells carry oxygen, and without it, substances called porphyrins build up in the liver, turning urine and feces purple. Symptoms include abdominal pain, chest pain, vomiting, confusion, and high heart rate, which can last weeks. Porphyria can even lead to seizures! Most of the time, porphyria passes from a parent, but one type comes from hep C, alcohol, and HIV/AIDS. Doctors make a diagnosis with blood, urine, and stool testing. However, they can also do genetic testing to determine the specific mutation. We’re not sure of the precise prevalence of porphyria, but it is estimated to affect between 1 and 100 per 50,000 people. Porphyria treatment varies but sometimes involves a liver transplant. A diet rich in carbs or medication can help. Some people with porphyria have so much pain that they have to use opiates while having so much nausea that they have to medicate with phenothiazine.


Alice in Wonderland Syndrome Is A Disease Like No Other

People with Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, or AIWS, don’t have to eat a magic cake or drink a potion to feel themselves rapidly shrinking and growing. AIWS disrupts their body image and perception of the things around them, making them feel bigger or smaller than they actually are. It might sound like a hallucination, but the problem occurs within the brain and affects the senses. People with Alice in Wonderland Syndrome might also lose their sense of time. Time may seem to pass very slowly, similar to an LSD experience. The lack of time and space perspective can also leave a person feeling like they are moving in slow motion or uncontrollably moving or walking. Sometimes the feelings only last a few minutes, but others experience chronic symptoms. Research has linked Alice in Wonderland Syndrome to migraines.

ABC News / Reuters

A Tragic Disease That That Turns Your Body Into A Tree

Also known as treeman syndrome, Epidermodysplasia Verruciformis (EV) is an extremely rare hereditary skin disorder. Patients grow bark-like warts on their hands and feet and are susceptible to HPV infections. Symptoms usually start between 1 and 20 but sometimes begin in middle age. Cases have been documented in the media for decades, leaving people in awe. Dede Koswara appeared on the Discovery Channel and TLC in 2007 and 2008. He returned home following surgery to remove 13 lbs (6 kg) of warts from his hands, head, torso, and feet. They covered his hands with grafted skin. However, his warts returned, and he was said to require two surgeries a year for the rest of his life to manage warts.

ABC News

This Disease Turns You Blue… Literally

Blue skin is actually due to the blood disorder methemoglobinemia. In patients with methemoglobinemia, the body overproduces the form of hemoglobin called methemoglobin. Instead of the typical 1% methemoglobin, those with this disease can have up to 20%. Because their hemoglobin cannot distribute oxygen in the body, their skin turns blue, their lips turn purple, and their blood turns chocolate brown. Other symptoms include headache, dizziness, shortness of breath, poor coordination, seizures, and arrhythmias. People can inherit this condition, but it comes from exposure to chemicals and drugs like benzocaine, lidocaine, nitrates, or dapsone. Babies under six months have lower levels of a critical methemoglobin-reducing enzyme, so they are at significant risk for developing this disease. Doctors make the diagnosis via arterial blood gas and CO-oximetry panels. You can treat methemoglobinemia with supplemental oxygen and methylene blue.

National Geographic

The Disease That Makes You Age At An Unbelievable Rate

Although they are born looking healthy, children as young as 1 or 2 years old with Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome already show signs of aging, slow growth, and hair loss. Eventually, they will lose most of their body fat and get wrinkles, causing them to appear decades older than they actually are. A mutation in a gene causes HGPS. It produces a protein that holds the nucleus of a cell together. Children with progeria of different ethnic backgrounds somehow develop a remarkably similar appearance. People with Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome experience severe hardening of the arteries beginning in childhood. This condition greatly increases the chances of having a heart attack or stroke .

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The Disease That Won’t Let You Forget Anything

Over the years, details get fuzzy, and often only feelings or flashes of memory remain. But if you asked someone with hyperthymesia what they were doing eight years ago, they’d be able to tell you every detail about their day. This condition is very rare, and only about 61 people are known to have it worldwide as of 2021. While people with this condition do not have Autism Spectrum Disorder, there are certain similarities between the two states. However, hyperthymestic individuals generally have a poorer-than-average memory for arbitrary information. So while they can recall minute details about their own lives, people with hyperthymesia do not outperform their peers in school or work. Their autobiographical memories are intimately connected to time-space synesthesia. People with this condition often describe the non-stop, uncontrollable remembering as a nuisance. It is exhausting, and some find themselves getting lost in remembering.


This Disease Compels You To Pull Out Your Hair

People with trichotillomania (TTM) uncontrollably pull out their hair, especially when stressed, often leading to hair loss. Unfortunately, the bald patches on their head, eyebrows, and facial hair often add to their emotional stress, resulting in further pulling. This condition sometimes runs in families, but it commonly occurs in people with OCD. People with TTM usually acknowledge pulling their hair out, but others attempt to hide and cover up their condition. The pulling is usually confined to one or two areas. However, it can involve multiple sites throughout the body. Most commonly, they pull the hair around the eyes and face, with some pulling out hair from their arms, legs, underarms, chest, and pubic area. People with TTM generally remove hair one strand at a time, and these episodes can last for hours. Some experience more satisfaction after pulling an anagen phase hair with the gel-like inner root sheath still surrounding the base of the hair. TTM overlap with people who suffer from anxiety, depression, OCD, and PTSD, with some cases brought on by stress

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The Disease That Makes You Allergic To The Cold

By the end of winter, most people feel as though they can’t bare the cold anymore. But that is actually true for people with Familial Cold Autoinflammatory Syndrome (FCAS). It is a rare condition, inherited through genetics, that causes people to have allergy-like responses to a drop in temperature. Several symptoms, including rashes, joint pain, fatigue, blurred vision, and nausea, occur within a couple of hours of cold exposure. The rashes are generally itchy, and hives can result. They estimate that about 1 per 1 million people live with FCAS. For some reason, the condition mostly occurs in Americans and Europeans. The effects of FCAS can alter a person’s life forever. A survey of US patients found that many had to limit their work, school, family, and social activities. 78% of participants described the disease’s impact on their work, including absenteeism and inability to advance. Many even had to quit their job to manage their condition.

The Sleep Foundation.

The Disease That Makes You Hear Explosions As You Fall Asleep

People with Exploding Head Syndrome claim to hear extremely loud sounds, like gunshots or marching band drums, as they fall asleep or wake up when no real sounds are happening around them. The noise can be frightening, but it is not a serious health concern. Around 10% of people with EHS also have visual disturbances like seeing static, lightning, or flashes of light. Others experience heat or electric tinglings that ascend to the head before the auditory hallucinations occur. The patterns vary, with some reporting they have a total of 2-4 attacks and then never experience it again. Still, others have attacked for a lifetime over days, weeks, or months. The cause of EHS is unknown. However, researchers theorize that it links to the part of our brain responsible for transitioning between wake and sleep. There is much room for research to be done on this disease. Many doctors believe most patients never seek medical treatment for the condition, so it goes unrecognized.

American Academy of Ophthalmology.

The Disease That Makes Your Hands And Feet Feel Like They’re Burning

Fabry disease is a rare genetic disorder caused by a deficiency of the alpha-galactosidase A enzyme, leading to the buildup of a fatty substance called Gb3 in the body’s cells. This buildup can cause a variety of symptoms, such as pain and burning sensations in the hands and feet, skin rashes and lesions, gastrointestinal issues, eye abnormalities, kidney dysfunction, and heart problems. The disease is primarily inherited in an X-linked pattern and affects males more than females, with symptoms typically appearing in childhood or adolescence and progressing over time. Treatment may include enzyme replacement therapy and other supportive measures to manage symptoms and prevent complications.

The Daily Mail.

The Disease That Prevents You From Feeling Physical Pain

Congenital analgesia is a rare condition in which a person is born without the ability to feel physical pain. This can be caused by genetic mutations that affect the functioning of the nervous system, including the pathways responsible for processing pain signals. People with congenital analgesia are unable to perceive any type of physical pain, including pain caused by injury, inflammation, or illness. While this may sound like a desirable condition, it can actually be quite dangerous, as the ability to feel pain is an important protective mechanism that helps prevent injury and illness. People with congenital analgesia are at risk of sustaining injuries or developing illnesses that they may not be aware of, as they do not experience the pain that would normally alert them to seek medical attention. As a result, they may have a shorter lifespan and a higher risk of complications from injuries and illnesses.

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