10 Baffling Medical Conditions
March 14, 2009
Here are some unusual medical conditions that have received recent media attention. The condition is known among brain researchers as hyperthymesic syndrome. It is still not fully understood exactly how this occurs. One hypothesis is that the "wiring" of the brains of those with hyperthymesia is set up in such a way that their brains are better able to organize and categorize information for later access.
When You Can't Open Your Eyes for Three Days
Natalie Adler, 21, of Caulfield South, Melbourne, Australia, says she can sense the onset of her unusual condition. "The night before it sets in, my eyes get quite heavy and that is how I know it is coming," says Adler. Invariably, the next morning she finds herself unable to open her tightly shut eyes. The bouts generally last for about three days, after which she can open her eyes and once again see normally. Doctors are baffled as to the exact cause. For now, Adler receives Botox treatments to the muscles surrounding her eyes. The injections often help her to keep her eyes open, but she said that the effectiveness of the treatments is starting to wane.
Persistent Sexual Arousal Syndrome
Persistent sexual arousal syndrome, or PSAS, sounds like a dirty joke. However, for the women who experience it, the condition is a nightmarish curse. The condition causes the sensation of being perpetually at the brink of orgasm. It is often only partially relieved through orgasm.
The Man Who Never Gets Cold
Wim Hof, 49, of the Netherlands, possesses such a strong resistance to cold that scientists remain baffled as to how it is possible. The Guinness world record holder has immersed himself, nearly naked, in ice for one hour and 12 minutes. In January 1999 he traveled 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle to run a half marathon in his bare feet. Three years later, dressed only in a swimsuit, he dove under the ice at the North Pole and swam 80 meters. Hof earned more recent renown for scaling Mount Everest in his shorts.
People Who Are Allergic to Cold
On the other end of the spectrum from Hof are those with a condition known as cold urticaria -- an allergy to cold temperatures. If you put an ice cube on somebody that has cold urticaria, they develop a welt where the ice cube was. Worse, those with the condition can expect to experience similar reactions to bitter winds and cold surfaces. A minor exposure can result in the formation of itchy, uncomfortable bumps. A major exposure -- such as diving into a chilly swimming pool -- could theoretically be enough to cause a potentially deadly allergic shock.
The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep
Four-year-old Rhett Lamb stays awake nearly 24 hours a day. After a number of conflicting diagnoses, Rhett was finally determined to have an extremely rare condition called chiari malformation. His brain was literally squeezed into his spinal column, causing compression, squeezing, and strangulating of the brain stem. In order to relieve this pressure, surgeons made an incision at the base of Rhett's skull to the top of his neck and removed the bone around the brain stem and spinal cord.
When You Can't Forget
But for a few people, every moment they live is indelibly etched into memory. Wisconsin resident Brad Williams can recall almost any news event and anything he has experienced, including specific dates and even the weather. Another case is a woman who is known in medical literature as "AJ". She can answer obscure questions with mind-blowing accuracy -- such as the weather on a particular day several years in the past, or the details of a decades-old news item.
When Your Memory Disappears in a Flash
Ten years ago, 57-year-old Beki Propst experienced a grand mal seizure that robbed her of a lifetime of memories. Details of Propst's case continue to baffle doctors. A devastating "electrical storm" in her brain caused her declarative memory to be wiped clean. Facts, events, dates, acquaintances and even her identity were wiped away.
While Propst's experience is rare, there have been numerous documented cases in which an injury has led to long-term amnesia.
Foreign Accent Syndrome
Traumatic events in the brain can have other unusual effects. For 52-year-old Canadian Rosemarie Dore, a stroke on the left side of her brain led to a very unusual side effect -- she began to speak with a different accent. Dore adopted a distinctively eastern Canadian accent, although she has never been to this region, and does not know anyone from that part of the country.
Though rare, foreign accent syndrome is not entirely undocumented in medical literature. Cases include a Florida woman speaking with a British accent, a Japanese woman sounding to other Japanese as if she were Korean and a South Carolina man developing a French-like accent.
Stacey Gayle found that a song could send her into an epileptic seizure. Even worse, the song that brought about her seizure was by reggae artist Sean Paul -- a favorite or hers. The seizures were so bad that Gayle finally had part of her brain surgically removed in an effort to control her problem. Brain researchers believe such seizures can occur when the part of the brain that processes emotions associated with a certain type of music overlap with areas of the brain that trigger seizures.
The Girl Who Feels No Pain
Eight-year-old Gabby Gingras has a rare condition known as hereditary sensory autonomic neuropathy, or HSAN. Gabby's lack of pain sensation is dangerous, since she cannot tell when she is injured. She has lost all her teeth, and a badly scratched cornea forced doctors to remove her left eye. She now wears a helmet and goggles every day to protect herself from serious injury.
As children with this condition get older, the hazards associated with never knowing the sensation of pain persist. However, a number of people have lived into adulthood with the condition.