You’ve probably seen at least one Dateline featuring crazy diseases, strange medical conditions with even stranger names. The poor souls who are diagnosed with these syndromes make us thankful that they are indeed rare. There are probably hundreds of these, but here is my list of the top five most unusual.
1. Alice in Wonderland Syndrome: Named after the distortion that Alice experienced during her trip down the rabbit hole, this syndrome occurs mainly in children. To those with this syndrome, body image and visual perception are altered, mainly the size and parts of objects. For instance, someone’s head may appear larger than it actually is or the ground may appear too close. In some cases, people report distortion in time, touch and sound. The syndrome is thought to be a side effect of another condition, such as migraines, Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, or the Epstein-Barr virus. Because of this, Alice in Wonderland Syndrome is treated by treating these underlying causes.
2. Ondine’s Curse: Also called Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome (CCHS), this condition was named after a mythical water nymph named Ondine, who put a curse on her mortal lover. He swore to her that he would love her with his every waking breath, and upon catching him in an unfaithful act with another woman, she cursed that he would forget to breathe if he fell asleep. This did eventually happen, and her lover died. This rare condition is actually a form of sleep apnea, when a person suffers from respiratory arrest during sleep. In extremely rare cases, this apnea also occurs while the person is awake.
3. Fatal Familial Insomnia: This rare inherited disease affects the thalamus, the area of the brain responsible for sleep. People with this disease physically can’t fall asleep, so their body deteriorates and they eventually die. What begins as progressive insomnia ends 18 months later with hallucinations, incontinence, Dementia, and death. It usually occurs in middle age, and is currently untreatable. It has only been found in 100 people and, since it’s hereditary, in just 40 families.
4. Seasonal Affective Disorder: I’m sure you’ve felt it: the blah caused when the gloom and gray of the winter months drags on too long. However, Seasonal Affective Disorder is more serious than just the winter blues. Otherwise known as SAD, this type of depression is also related to the seasons. People with this mood disorder have normal mental health the majority of the year, but become depressed–sometimes sleeping too much or having less energy–during the winter months. Symptoms also include overeating, weight gain, and morning sickness, as well as the classic symptoms of depression, including withdrawal, pessimism, and lack of pleasure in things that used to make one happy. Although it is not certain what causes SAD, some believe it to be due to light, or rather lack of. Because of this, treatment includes light therapy with sunlight or bright lights, as well as a supplement of melatonin. SAD can also be seen in the spring and summer months, although it is less common.
5. Graft Versus Host Disease: This disease is the opposite of what may happen after a transplant, when the body attacks the transplanted organ. Instead, this disease happens after a bone-marrow transplant when the transplanted cells attack the host organs and tissue. when the transplanted organ attacks the host. Only twins have identical bone marrow tissue, so a donor is only a close match. This slight difference is enough to cause the T cells (white blood cells) to see the host body tissues as foreign. The new bone marrow then attacks the body. The risk of GVHD can be lessened by taking drugs that suppress the immune system.