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You Think You Have it Bad?

April 20, 2017

If you’re one of those people who wake up in the morning complaining about “not feeling yourself” or are constantly hunting down new pimples and fighting back the hair in your ears, you could have bigger problems.

Here are six syndromes and disorders documented in the medical literature of unusual maladies that have made the news but possibly missed your attention. While none of them are considered life-threatening disorders, they do represent some of the nasty tricks the body plays on us.

Who is That in the Mirror?

Take the case of Robert (not his real name) who was recently diagnosed with Capgras Syndrome, a rare psychological disorder that makes the sufferer suspicious of their own reflection in the mirror – or anyone else’s.

Capgras victims have difficulty making physical and emotional connections with the people, places and things that they see, even if they’ve been a part of their lives for years. They’ll see their reflections in a mirror or other shiny surfaces and wonder who the stranger is that’s peering back at them.

According to Dr. V.S. Ramachandran, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego, people diagnosed with Capgras Syndrome often focus on their pets, running shoes or other objects and convince themselves that someone has broken into their home and replaced familiar objects with imposters.

Can You Direct Me to the Loo?

Foreign Accent Syndrome is a rare disease that causes the afflicted to suddenly and unexplainably start speaking in an unfamiliar dialect. One of the first cases of FAS was discovered in 1941 after a young Norwegian woman sustained a shrapnel injury to her head during a war-time air raid. Although she had never been out of the country, she suddenly began speaking with a German accent that resulted in her being shunned by her family and friends. Another young woman named Judi Roberts from Indiana in the United States suffered a stroke at 57 and began speaking with a British accent that included unique vocabulary terms like “bloody” and “loo”.

Get Your Hands Off of Me, Dr. Strangelove

If there was ever a malady that a high school boy might envy while parked with his sweetheart, it’s Alien Hand Syndrome, also known as Dr. Strangelove Syndrome.

Alien Hand Syndrome is caused by damage to the parietal or occipital lobe of the brain. Those afflicted often find one of their hands operating independently from the rest of their body – sometimes completely against their conscious will.

AHS sufferers often report incidences of a “rogue hand” involved in disobedient behavior such as undoing buttons or removing clothing. One patient reported a bizarre incident where her right hand put a cigarette into her mouth. Before she could light it, her left hand yanked the cigarette out and crushed it in an ashtray.

Please Pass the Dirt

At one time or another all kids will experiment by eating an occasional handful of dirt. The good news is for the majority of youngsters, it’s a passing phase. The bad news is that if this fascination with eating non-food items persists longer than a month, your child could be afflicted with Pica.

Associated with developmental disabilities such as autism or mental retardation, Pica typically affects children younger than 24 months. It can also appear in epileptics and pregnant women.

Pica sufferers find themselves craving and consuming a wide variety of non-food items such as dirt, sand, hair, glue, buttons, paint chips, plaster, laundry starch, cigarette butts, paper, soap and even feces – all varieties. There was even one documented case of “Cutlery Craving” where a 47 year old Englishman underwent over 30 operations to remove various items including 8 dinner forks and a mop head from his stomach.

Another form of Pica called Geophagia, is practiced by cultures that eat earth substances such as dirt and clay to relieve nausea, morning sickness, control diarrhea and to remove toxins from their body.

Something Smells Fishy Around Here

Bad breath, body odor and the occasional flatulence – we’ve all had to deal with them. But how would you live with a wife or boyfriend who constantly smelled of rotting fish?

A rare metabolic disorder called “Fish Odor Syndrome” (also called “trimethylaminuria” or “TMAU”) results in the afflicted releasing an enzyme called “trimethylamine” through their sweat, urine, breath and other body fluids that gives off a strong “fishy” odor. The condition appears to be more common in women than men and researchers suspect that female sex hormones like estrogen or progesterone may be at fault.

While there is no cure for Fish Odor Syndrome, people afflicted can control the disease by avoiding eggs, legumes and foods that contain choline, nitrogen and sulfur. And, of course, brushing their teeth regularly.

A Permanent Bad Hair Day

If you’ve suffered from the occasional “bad hair day” consider yourself lucky – things could be worse. You could be afflicted with “Uncombable Hair Syndrome.” UHS is a rare disease that affects young boys and girls before puberty. In fact, there have only been 60 cases reported in the medical literature between 1973 and 1998.

UHS is an inherited disease with subtle hair changes noted in several preceding generations. It begins with a hair follicle that produces triangular hair with several longitudinal grooves, has very little pigment and is exceptionally dry and brittle. Because the hair is so dry, it rarely lies down – instead, the hair grows straight out from the scalp.

So what should you do if you are diagnosed with UHS? First, cancel your appointments with your hairdresser. People afflicted with UHS typically experience “alopecia” or periodic baldness. The hair frequently breaks off before it has time to grow. However, there has been some success with patients who take 0.3mg of Biotin, 3 times a day. Many experience a reduction in their symptoms after only 4 months. Some cases recover spontaneously several years after it first appears.

Written for and excerpted from Armchair Reader The Gigantic Reader – West Side Publishing (September 7, 2009)

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