10 Medical Syndromes You Won’t Believe Actually Exist

Nearly everyone has a family member or friend who suffers from cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. Reality is often stranger than fiction. There are some syndromes out there that are so incredibly rare, you may be shocked to learn that these diseases can actually happen.

10. Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

In Lewis Carroll’s famous children’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the body of the hero, Alice, grows bigger after drinking from a mysterious bottled labeled “drink me,” and the rest of the objects around her became small. While most people would assume this is just one of many scenes from the book that only exist in a world of fantasy, people actually suffer from a real condition that alters their perception, making them feel as though people and objects around them have either become very, very small, or grown to gigantic proportions. This phenomenon is known as Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.

While this sounds like a psychological hallucination, it’s actually a result of an adjustment in the parietal lobe of the brain. Your eyes simply perceive objects at the wrong size, even if your mind is fully aware that it’s not real. Migraine headaches and fevers can sometimes trigger these visions. It can also be triggered by stress, an infection, and of course, taking drugs. Even drugs as mild as cough medicine have been known to bring on these hallucinations.

Lewis Carroll was known for having severe migraines, and he also drank laudanum on a regular basis to help cope with the pain. Unfortunately, this liquid would have turned him into an addict, since it was a combination of opium, morphine, and codeine.  Many historians now believe that he was writing about his own experiences, and he was most likely terrified that he was going insane.

Episodes of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome come and go within a matter of minutes, and most people experience them at home. Dr. Sheena Aurora from Stanford University is the only physician who has managed to capture brain activity on an MRI while a 12-year-old girl was in the middle of having these visions. It turns out that electrical activity in the brain can sometimes cause abnormal blood flow, which causes the change in perception of object sizes. Aside from being a bit scary, this doesn’t seem to have any negative effects on the person’s health or day-to-day life.

9. Foreign Accent Syndrome

Usually, changing your accent can take years of living in a foreign state or country, or intently studying actors in foreign films and TV shows. But for some people, all it takes is a day of surgery and a long nap for them to wake up sounding like a totally different person.

Foreign Accent Syndrome is when someone suddenly changes their accent without warning. People typically get this syndrome after suffering from a brain injury or a stroke. In the case of a woman named Lisa Alamia from Texas, she woke up with an English cockney accent after she had surgery on her jaw to fix an overbite.  Sometimes, the foreign accent patients develop doesn’t fit in with any country at all, because it really is just speech patterns that are affected by either their tongue placement, or the part of the brain that helps them process languages. While there is no easy cure for this syndrome, patients can attend speech therapy, if they really want to go back to their original accents.

8. Alien Hand Syndrome

Imagine that your hand had a mind of its own, and that it did whatever it wanted. It starts slapping you in the face, or picking up items off the shelves in the stores and throwing them in your cart without warning. This is Alien Hand Syndrome, and it can be caused by damage to the brain and nervous system after a seizure, brain tumor, or stroke, or surgery.

You have probably seen a baby who can’t help but grab at almost anything you put in front of them. As an adult, you have developed impulse control, and your brain knows better than to reach out for anything and everything. But people who suffer from this syndrome cannot control one of their hands, and it will reach out and grab or slap objects in front of them, because it becomes almost like a reflex. In many cases, this can get people into a lot of trouble when they are out in public. Patients who to go to physical therapy often walk with a cane, even if they don’t really need one, simply to keep their alien hand occupied.

7. Paris and Jerusalem Syndrome

There is a saying that you should never meet your heroes, because you’re bound to be disappointed. The same holds true for the places in the world that you have built up in your mind as being these amazing cities, because the disappointment can be so harsh, it literally sends people to the hospital.

The two places in the world that affects the most people are Paris and Jerusalem. Japanese people in particular have a tendency to romanticize Paris, France as this place where they can show up and find the love of their life. When they get there to realize the Eiffel Tower isn’t that much different than its counterpart in Tokyo, many people start to have extreme anxiety attacks and bouts of depression that are so bad, they end up in the hospital.

In a similar fashion, Christians build up the idea of Jerusalem as being such a wonderful and holy place. Many people have convinced themselves that if they visit, there will be a miracle, and somehow, their lives will be changed forever. It might actually be better to leave disappointed, when you consider the alternative. In 1992, a Canadian tourist visiting Jerusalem had such an intense religious experience, that he claimed he was the Biblical character Samson. He was sent to a local psychiatric hospital. When the doctors in Jerusalem were interviewed by the New York Times, they said that a patient claiming to be Samson was a new one. Usually, people like to think they’re Jesus.

6. Hallermann-Streiff Syndrome

With fewer than 250 people known to have the disease, Hallermann-Streiff Syndrome is one of the rarest conditions in the world. There are 28 abnormal characteristics that doctors use to diagnose someone with HS Syndrome. That’s far too many to list here, but the most common attributes are distinct facial features with small, close-set eyes and beak-like noses. This is due to an underdeveloped skull and facial bones. There is also a lack of hair growth, dwarfism, and poor eyesight from cataracts. People who are born with Hallermann-Streiff Syndrome typically don’t suffer with any sort of learning disabilities. Mentally, they become fully grown adults, but they continue to live in child-like bodies their entire lives.

A woman named Michelle Kish is 20-years-old, but she is often confused with being a small child. During an interview with the BBC, Michelle’s parents said that during her pregnancy and birth, everything seemed absolutely normal. They didn’t know about her diagnosis until after she was born, and they took her to a geneticist. HS Syndrome happens completely at random, and it occurs in one out of every 5 million births. Michelle spends a lot of time in and out of hospitals for her medical difficulties, but she is otherwise a very happy and intelligent lady.

5. Glass Syndrome

Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also known as “Glass Syndrome” or “Brittle Bone Disease,” is when a child is born with extremely fragile bones that can break from even a gentle touch from another person. They can even break a rib from coughing or laughing too hard. In most cases, they will already start breaking their bones when they are inside the womb. Because of this, their bones can never grow to their full potential, often leaving them physically unable to walk.

An Australian actor named Quentin Kenihan proves that people with brittle bones can still live their lives to the fullest. He is a filmmaker, actor, director, author, and public speaker. He got a part in Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015, and is one of the few disabled actors in history to appear in an Academy Award winning film.

4. Blue Skin Syndrome

Before the invention of antibiotics, doctors prescribed “colloidal silver” for a litany of medical problems, but today, doctors no longer prescribe it because it can causes a condition called Argyria, where a person’s skin turns blue. It turns out that if humans come into contact with too much metal in the blood steam, it will actually change their skin color. It is believed that the term “blue blood” came from the fact that people in aristocratic families ate all of their food and drink from real silver, and it must have tinted some peoples’ skin.

In 2008, a man named Paul Karason began taking a supplement called colloidal silver after seeing it advertised as a way to improve his health. He didn’t get out very much, and after months of taking colloidal silver every day, one of his friends asked what happened to his face. He finally looked in the mirror, and saw that his entire body had turned blue.

There is actually another mysterious syndrome that can turn a person’s skin blue, as well. The Fugate Family is remembered as the “Blue People of Kentucky” because several members of the clan were born with blue skin, while others looked perfectly normal. This was caused by a syndrome called methemoglobinemia, which is an an increased amount of iron in the blood from poor oxygenation.

3. Cutis Laxa Syndrome

The movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button depicts a child who was born looking like an old man, and he gets progressively younger as he ages. This disease truly does exist in real life, but unfortunately, most people born with this don’t get to grow up to be Brad Pitt.

Bancroft TV filmed a documentary about a young woman named Zara Hartshorn, who suffers with the rare condition, which is called Cutis Laxa Syndrome. This causes skin to sag prematurely and gives someone the appearance that they are much older than their actual age. Sometimes, the syndrome can manifest with internal issues normally associated with the elderly as well, like heart and lung complications. While the sagging skin is strictly a cosmetic issue, it can completely destroy the person’s self-esteem. This issue is also genetic, so parents with Cutis Laxa Syndrome will pass it down to their children or grandchildren.

There is not much that can be done to cure the syndrome, beyond getting plastic surgery. Zara Hartshorn chose to get a facelift when she was just 16-years-old to help improve her appearance.

2. Sleeping Beauty Syndrome

Klein Levin Syndrome, also known as “Sleeping Beauty” syndrome, usually begins in someone’s teen years. While it’s normal for growing teenagers to enjoy sleeping in, Klein Levin Syndrome causes someone to fall asleep for weeks, or even months at a time.

It is usually triggered by catching a virus, like the flu, and it causes a disruption in the immune system. People who suffer with this disease begin to act like a bear that is about to go into hibernation. They will often lose weight during the course of their slumber, only to wake up half-asleep and extremely irritable. They eat as much food as they possibly can, before going back to sleep.

For the people who suffer from Klein Levin Syndrome, they miss out on school, but also on family vacations, birthdays, and other important events in their lives. Unfortunately, there is no cure, but doctors are trying hormone treatments and other medications to help reduce the sleeping episodes. Thankfully, some people can grow out of it once they become adults.

1. The Bubble Boy (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency)

In 1971, a baby named David Vetter was born with a condition called Severe Combined Immunodeficiency. David’s mother’s first child died of an infection soon after his birth, so they knew to quickly transfer baby David to a sterile environment before he could be exposed to germs.

David spent the rest of his young life inside of a bubble. He was put on the news, where many people reached out to offer help. NASA even developed a special suit that enabled him to walk around for the first time. In 1975, the movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, starring John Travolta, premiered, loosely based on David’s life story. That film, in turn, helped inspire the 2001 movie Bubble Boy.

When people saw footage of David in the news, the public criticized his mother for keeping him in the bubble his entire life, even though it was the only thing keeping him alive. They knew that the arrangement could not last into his adulthood, and doctors around the world began to suggest possible cures for his disorder.

Desperate to find a cure, David’s mother agreed to allow doctors to try an experimental procedure. They wanted to give him a bone marrow transplant from his sister, in the hopes that it could help his body form a healthy immune system. He was taken out of his bubble just long enough to have the surgery. But unfortunately, that short time out of his bubble truly did kill him about a week later.

After David’s death, doctors have since discovered that if a baby is born with this disease, their only chance of a cure is to give them a bone marrow transplant when they are still an infant, or in the womb. This method has a 95% chance of helping the baby develop a healthy immune system for the rest of their life.

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