You Have What? Weird Medical Cases You Need To Read To Believe

5 minute read

By Kathleen Corrigan

The human body is truly amazing – and although we’ve been studying it for centuries, we’re still discovering and learning more. Learn about some of the weirdest, and thankfully very rare, medical conditions known to man with a quick search.

The body can heal itself, come back from unthinkable scenarios, and so much more. But for every awesome feat the human body can perform, there’s a totally weird and unexpected medical condition that can develop.

A Twisted Esophagus

In 2013, an 87-year old Swiss woman went to the doctor complaining of painful spasms after eating that caused her to lose 11 pounds over a short period of time. Doctors performed an endoscopy, lowering a camera down into the patient’s throat, and were shocked by the results. Whenever the woman swallowed, her esophagus would twist itself into a corkscrew.

While unusual, the condition wasn’t unheard of. In 2003, another elderly female patient complained of cramps, frequent belching, and difficulty swallowing due to the same condition, which has been classified as an “esophageal motility disorder”. According to gastroenterologists, the rare condition stems from how the muscles of the esophagus contract. In a healthy esophagus, the muscles contract slowly from top to bottom. But in patients suffering from this disorder, all the muscles contract at once, causing the esophagus to form a spiral shape. 

Foreign Accent Syndrome

Even though this condition sounds like something straight out of a soap opera, Foreign Accent Syndrome is very real and has affected approximately 60 people since being discovered in 1907. 

Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) is a neurological condition that occurs when a patient suddenly uses speech patterns that are identified with a foreign accent that isn’t their own. Typically, this condition appears following a stroke, coma, or a traumatic brain injury which affects the part of the brain that controls linguistics and speech. However, in some cases the condition has been found to be psychogenic, or caused by mental issues such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

Other symptoms of FAS include a loss of vocabulary, consonant and vowel substitutions or deletions, and other speech pattern errors. Reported accent changes have included British to Chinese or French, or American English to British and Spanish to Hungarian. 

The only known treatment for Foreign Accent Syndrome is speech therapy, but in some cases the condition has cleared up with time or after a second traumatic event such as a seizure. 

Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva

If you haven’t heard of fibrodysplasia ossificans progressive, you may not want to know what it is. Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressive is a rare condition in which a person’s muscle and connective tissue regenerates as bone on the outside of the skeleton. 

Typically, the condition appears in early childhood and continues to progress throughout one’s life, severely impacting a sufferer’s appearance, mobility, and even their ability to open their mouth to eat. In extreme cases, people suffering from fibrodysplasia ossificans progressive can even have trouble breathing as bone forms around the ribcage, restricting lung movement. 

Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressive is caused by a mutation of the ACVR1 gene, which causes the body to generate bone rather than tissue. In some cases, the muscles and connective tissue turn into bone on their own, but often it occurs after an injury or illness, such as influenza, when the body attempts to repair the damage. Sadly, there is no cure for this disease and a surgical removal of the bone growth often results in an explosive regrowth as the body attempts to repair itself. 

Thankfully, this condition is so rare that it only affects 1 in 2 million people.

Dr. Strangelove Syndrome

Named for the 1964 Stanley Kubrik film Dr. Strangelove, Dr. Strangelove Syndrome is a neurological condition that causes the sufferer to lose control of one of their hands, much like Peter Sellers’ character in the disease’s namesake film. 

Sufferers report being unable to control the actions of their hand as if it had a mind of its own. One patient explained that, after using his dominant hand to choose a television channel, the other hand would immediately change it back. Another patient claimed to have been nearly strangled by his wayward limb in his sleep.

While the condition is extremely rare with only around 40 known cases in history, experts have identified that Dr. Strangelove Syndrome can be caused by a stroke, brain lesion, aneurism or injury, or even a tumor. It has also been known to occur following a brain surgery to treat conditions such as epilepsy, which involves an incision along the corpus callosum, dividing the two sides of the brain. To date there is no cure for this bizarre condition.

Werewolf Syndrome (Hypertrichosis)

Sadly, sufferers of hypertrichosis have been greatly mistreated throughout history and were often roped into circus sideshow acts and billed as bearded ladies or human werewolves. Today we know a little bit more about the rare condition that’s also known as “werewolf syndrome,” which causes sufferers to grow dense hair all over the body (generalized hypertrichosis) or on specific parts of the body (localized hypertrichosis).

Acquired hypertrichosis is typically a less severe and more common form of the disease and can be brought on by an eating disorder like anorexia, cancer, or a reaction to androgenic steroids or hair growth drugs.

Congenital hypertrichosis, which typically appears from birth, is thought to be caused by a genetic mutation that occurs when the X chromosome has an excess of genes. This leads to a thick growth of dense hair over one’s face, eyelids, or body that can occur at birth or later in life. While there is no known long-term cure for the disease, short-term treatments include shaving, waxing, and electrolysis. To date, there have only been around 100 reported cases of werewolf syndrome throughout history.

Laughing Death

Luckily, this is one disease on this list that you’re very, very unlikely to get. In the 1950s, a mysterious illness began to tear through the Fore tribe in Papua New Guinea. Laughing Death, or kuru as the tribe called it, began with a loss of control of mobility, then the limbs, and eventually the emotions, which led to the name Laughing Death. 

Within a year of developing this condition, sufferers would be unable to move or control their bodily functions before eventually succumbing to death. The disease was primarily affecting adult women and children under the age of 8. And when the illness began to take the lives of more than 200 people per year, researchers were brought in to find the cause.

Since the illness was isolated, scientists believed it may have been caused by a contaminant or a genetic mutation specific to the tribe. Eventually, it was discovered that people who died from the illness appeared to have holes in their brains and after years of research, the mystery was finally solved. Believing that it was better to be eaten by a loved one than by worms, the Fore people had a tradition of cannibalizing their loved ones bodies after they passed, which spread the mystery illness throughout the tribe. When the tribe stopped this macabre practice, the Laughing Deaths ended and in 1976, the research team who made the discovery was awarded with a Nobel Prize.

Kathleen Corrigan