Brains are weird. They use billions of complex, interconnected nerve cells to make sense of the vast amount of sensory information we are bombarded with every second of every day, and let us become self-aware and conscious. Yet it doesn't take much to confuse them—and when things go wrong, they can go really wrong. Ever felt worms crawling through your skin or found yourself sexually aroused 24/7? Ever woken up and all you could speak is Polish (and, you're not from Poland)? Read on to find out what other weird neurological diseases seem too crazy to exist, but actually do.
Persistent genital arousal disorder
What might sound like fun at first can be a very painful experience in the end. People who suffer from this rare neurological (and perhaps hormonal) condition suffer from unrelenting, persistent, and intrusive genital arousal which has nothing to do with sexual desire. The disorder is not related to hypersexuality (e.g., nymphomania) in any sense. Unfortunately, it can affect anyone irrespective of age or gender, and is so distressful and embarrassing that people with this condition often turn suicidal.
Although no definite cause has been established yet for this syndrome, scientists believe that neurological hypersensitivity (i.e., overly sensitive nerves in the genital area) could be the reason. Other theories range from venous congestion of pelvic organs to disorder in prolactin hormone release after orgasm, to deficiency in oxytocin release from the pituitary gland located at the base of the brain.
Alice in Wonderland syndrome (AIWS), Micropsia, or Lilliput Sight
Alice in Wonderland syndrome (AIWS), or micropsia, is a disorienting neurological condition which affects human visual perception. Subjects perceive humans, parts of humans, animals, and inanimate objects as substantially smaller than in reality. Generally, the object perceived appears far away or extremely close at the same time. For example, a family pet, such as a dog, may appear the size of a mouse, or a normal car may look shrunk to scale. This leads to another name for the condition, Lilliput sight or Lilliputian hallucinations, named after the small people in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels.
The condition is in terms of perception only; the mechanics of the eye are not affected, only the brain's interpretation of information passed from the eyes.
Alien Hand Syndrome
When your hand does what it wants... The alien hand syndrome is a neurological disorder in which one of the patient's hands seems to take on a mind of its own. Although a person with Alien Hand syndrome has full sensation in the rogue hand, they are not in control of its movement as though it is not part of their body. "Alien hands" can perform complex acts such as undoing buttons, removing clothing, and using tools.
Fifty five-year-old Karen Byrne lives in New Jersey. When she was 27, she had surgery to control her epilepsy. Since then something bizarre started happening with her. Her left hand, and occasionally her left leg, behaved as if they had a mind of their own. "I'd light a cigarette, balance it on an ashtray, and then my left hand would reach forward and stub it out," she said. "It would take things out of my handbag and I wouldn't realise so I would walk away. I lost a lot of things before I realized what was going on." Not only that, her left hand would slap her suddenly or start unbuttoning her shirt.
Researchers believe that this is a side effect of brain surgery or an injury to the fiber bundle that connects the two halves of the brain (i.e, the corpus callosum). They found that in patients with this syndrome, the left and right hemisphere of their brains each is capable of its own independent will. In Karen's case, the right side of her brain refused to be dominated by the left and so her left hand seemed to be controlled by "alien intelligence". A recent study suggests that botulinum toxin injections may help minimize this syndrome.
Congenital insensitivity to pain
Ever watched an ascetic walk over red hot coals with a serene expression on their face? That could be a trick or faith and scientists have come out with various explanations for the process. But there is a bizarre genetic condition where the patients don’t perceive physical pain in any part of their body even when injured. For example, people with this condition cannot sense when a hot beverage is burning their tongue. This pain insensitivity can lead to wounds and bruises and other health issues going undetected. Congenital insensitivity to pain 6 is a rare condition that affects the nervous system, which connects the brain and spinal cord to muscles and cells that detect sensations such as touch, smell, and pain. It is believed to be caused due to mutation in the gene that controls these pain sensing neurons.
Pica: The urge to eat non-food substances
People diagnosed with Pica have an insatiable urge to eat non-food substances like dirt, soap, paper, glue, and clay. In extreme cases, people may compulsively eat potentially dangerous items such as flakes of dried paint or pieces of metal, which may lead to serious consequences such as lead poisoning.
There seems to be no single cause of pica. The disease most often occurs in children and pregnant women, where it may be due to anemia or a deficiency in iron or zinc. In this case the unusual cravings would be a sign that the body is trying to replenish low nutrient levels.
However, people with certain mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder may also develop pica as a coping mechanism. Some people may even enjoy and crave the textures or flavors of certain nonfood items. In some cultures, eating clay is an accepted behavior. This form of pica is called geophagia.
Jumping frenchman disorder: weird reflexes
The main characteristic is that patients are extremely startled by an unexpected noise or sight. It's not just twitching when someone sneaks up behind you. Patients with this disorder flail their arms, cry out and repeat words.
First identified in some of Maine's lumberjacks of French-Canadian origin, the odd reflex has been identified in other parts of the world, too.
Foreign Accent Syndrome
It is a widespread belief that foreign accents will immediately make you more attractive to the opposite sex. But sometimes your average Macho with the foreign accent isn't actually a foreigner or putting on an act to get laid: Foreign Accent Syndrome is a rare condition following a head injury, trauma or stroke. This syndrome causes someone to speak their native language as if they had a foreign accent. Its symptoms result from distorted articulatory planning and coordination processes. To the untrained ear, those with the syndrome sound as though they speak their native languages with a foreign accent; for example, an American native speaker of English might sound as though he spoke with a south-eastern English accent. However, researchers found that speakers suffering from foreign accent syndrome acquire neither a specific foreign accent nor any additional fluency in a foreign language. Despite an unconfirmed news report in 2010 that a Croatian speaker has gained the ability to speak fluent German after emergence from a coma, there has been no verified case where a patient's foreign language skills have improved after a brain injury.
Walking Corpse Syndrome: they believe to have died
Walking Corpse Syndrome, also known as Cotard's syndrome or the Cotard delusion, is a rare mental illness that makes people think they are dead, either figuratively or literally. People with this disease deny that they are living, have blood, have kidney or any other internal organs. They hold onto the delusion that they are no longer walking the earth. The disease can make the afflicted person withdraw from the rest of the world overlooking their personal hygiene and personal health. Patients may even starve to death as they strongly believe they don't need food, or have delusions of immortality—after all a dead person can't die again.
Cotard's delusion is thought to be caused by improper functioning of the part of the brain that identifies faces, making subjects not able to recognize their own face. As a result, they lose their sense of self and eventually come to the conclusion that they must be dead.
Cotard's syndrome is usually encountered in people afflicted with a psychosis (e.g., schizophrenia), neurological illness, mental illness, clinical depression, derealization, and with migraine headache. Treatment is possible through a series of antidepressant, antipsychotic, and mood-stabilizing drugs.
Turns out laughter can kill—literarlly. Also known as the laughing sickness, Kuru disease is an incurable degenerative neurological disorder that causes the inflicted to burst into uncontrollable laughter that can lead to death. Sufferers of Kuru also have constant shakes, headaches, difficulty in swallowing, joint spasms, legs and arms pains and loss of control of their own body.
Although the disease is currently incurable, chances are you are not going to be affected, since the disease is caused by cannibalism. Humans can only contract the disease by feeding on the brain of another human who has the disease. Tribal regions of Papa New Guinea are the only verified areas where the disease exists, thanks to the tribe's tradition of eating their relatives once they die. The word Kuru means "trembling with fear" among the Fore Tribe.
Very little is known about this new disease which emerged in Sudan in the 1960s. It is a fatal, mentally and physically disabling, and only affects young children. Children affected by nodding disease experience a complete and permanent stunting of growth. The growth of the brain is also stunted, leading to mental handicap. The disease is named for the characteristic, pathological nodding seizure, which often begins when the children begin to eat, or sometimes when they feel cold. These seizures are brief and halt after the children stop eating or when they feel warm again. Investigators believe it could be connected to river blindness, a disease transmitted by the black fly, which is widespread in southern Sudan.