Not in a fairy tale. What rare diseases become literary subjects? | Healthy life | Health

It is known that the plots of many fairy tales are taken from life. But after reading about these rare diseases, you will probably be very surprised to learn how whimsically the writer’s fantasy transformed terrible ailments into romantic stories.

alien hand syndrome

The diagnosis sounds like the head of “Tale from the Crypt” or like a scary story from a pioneer childhood. But the symptoms of this rare neuropsychiatric disease (the prevalence is 0.5–1 case per 100,000 population) can scare anyone. After all, patients do not obey their own hands, which do not move at the will of the owner. Another name for the syndrome – Dr. Strangelove’s disease – is given by the name of one of Stanley Kubrick’s movie heroes, whose hand sometimes rose in a Nazi salute, then began to choke the hero himself.

This disorder was first identified in 1909 by a German neurologist Kurt Goldstein, whose patient complained that her own hand was trying to strangle her. At the same time, no mental abnormalities and other oddities were found in the woman, and the attacks eventually stopped. However, the doctor was intrigued and, when the patient died, performed an autopsy. Damage was found in her brain that destroyed the transmission of signals between the hemispheres, which led to the development of the syndrome.

Modern science believes that alien hand syndrome can accompany various disorders of the brain: neurodystrophic pathologies (Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis), open head injuries, severe concussions and brain tumors, and the consequences of neurosurgical interventions. It also happens with cerebrovascular disorders (large aneurysms, acute stage of stroke).

There is no complete cure for alien hand syndrome. The therapy is aimed at eliminating the underlying disease and stopping individual symptoms with the help of orthopedic bandages or tactile stimulation, in which the patient is advised to constantly hold some object in his unruly hand – a cane or expander. You can also try to calm the raging limb with another, controlled hand.

White Rabbit Syndrome

This is another hello from Lewis Carroll. This syndrome, in which a person is constantly in a hurry somewhere and worries that he may be late, is not a serious illness, but a slight neurotic disorder. Although not entirely harmless, because it keeps the patient in a state of chronic stress, depriving him of strength and energy. Fortunately, it is successfully treated with the help of behavioral therapy and mild sedatives.

Mad Hatter Syndrome

And Lewis Carroll again. However, the name of the syndrome was given not so much by the character of a well-known fairy tale as by the unknown hatters of the 19th century, who used mercury in the production of felt and, being poisoned by its vapors, showed frightening symptoms: tremor, weakness, anxiety, hallucinations, problems with coordination.

Rapunzel Syndrome

The main symptom of this rare mental illness, hiding behind a beautiful name, is the absorption by a person of his own hair, which, entangled, turns into a lump (trichobezoar) in the stomach, the long “tail” of which descends into the small intestine. Most patients sooner or later end up on the table to the surgeon. Or immediately to the pathologist, because the disease threatens with intestinal obstruction and sepsis. To see a doctor before the sad denouement of patients is forced by symptoms: abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting. If the problem has not yet become acute, patients may complain of decreased appetite, bloating, weight loss, diarrhea, or constipation. The surgeon will eliminate the trichobezoar, but, of course, the psychiatrist must continue the treatment.

Progressive lipodystrophy

Losing weight without putting any effort into it is the cherished dream of many. But be careful what you wish for, as the destruction of adipose tissue can also occur as a result of a rare genetic pathology in which fat is destroyed so quickly that the skin does not have time to contract and sags, becoming wrinkled. Treatment is only plastic surgery, but the effect of it, alas, is only temporary.

ROHHAD syndrome (Rapid-onset Obesity with Hypoventilation and Autonomic Dysregulation)

Everything is the opposite here: a person is rapidly getting fat, because he cannot cope with his appetite. It is possible that Robin-Bobin Barabek from the poem by K. I. Chukovsky, who ate “both a cart, and a bull, and a crooked butcher”, suffered precisely from the ROHHAD syndrome. But it’s not just about increased appetite. Patients suffer from respiratory disorders and cardiac arrest. ROHHAD syndrome has been registered in only 100 patients in the world today. The cause of the disease is a dysfunction of the pituitary gland caused by a genetic mutation.


This disease is beautifully called the Sleeping Beauty disease, but there is nothing romantic about it. The disease develops at any age, causing sudden attacks of irresistible daytime sleepiness: patients can fall asleep anywhere. In addition to sleep paralysis, hallucinations and cataplexy (sudden muscle weakness in certain parts or throughout the body) sometimes appear. The cause of this neurodegenerative disease is not drug use, as the name might suggest, but autoimmune destruction of neurons in the hypothalamus. For such patients, doctors can offer only drugs to enhance wakefulness and antidepressants.

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AIWS)

This is a disease of the brain, and by no means fabulous. Today, there are 166 patients with AIWS living on the planet. Scientists argue what it is: a form of epilepsy, side effects of drugs, the consequences of severe viral infections, or something else? The disease makes life look like a nightmare: the patient’s visual perception is distorted, including parts of his body, and he is not able to determine whether an object is far or close, what is its size and shape. The sense of time also changes: it either speeds up, or crawls like a snail, and a person cannot even approximately understand how many hours or minutes have passed. In addition, patients experience hallucinations and headaches, see and hear things that are not there. The cause of the disease is unknown and there is no cure yet. However, sometimes the disease goes away on its own.

Munchausen syndrome

No, patients do not say that they pulled themselves out of the swamp by the hair or flew on the core to the moon. But they very convincingly imitate non-existent diseases in themselves (or in their relatives). Unlike ordinary simulators, they believe in their fiction and sometimes even agree to unnecessary operations.

But, of course, the worst thing is when patients attribute fictitious diseases not to themselves, but to children. It was this form of delegated disorder that suffered from Dee Dee Blanchard, who endowed her healthy daughter Gypsy Rose with several deadly diseases at once (leukemia, muscular dystrophy, mental retardation, etc.) and subjected her to severe senseless treatment. To escape from captivity, the girl, when she grew up, organized the murder of her own mother, for which she received 10 years in prison.

In 2019, this shocking story was filmed.


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