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Unusual Medical Conditions, Their Names and Effects

Pills Can Treat Real Conditions or Be Placebos - Tom Varco
However weird phobias, conditions or illnesses may be, somebody somewhere will come up with names to describe them, give them status and find sufferers.

The world seems full of people who suffer unusual health problems. Hypochondria has been around a long time. According to Medical News Today, people are hypochondriacs if they have ‘a preoccupying fear of having a serious illness despite medical assurances that they are well.

Munchausen Syndrome (named after an 18th century German officer who exaggerated his life’s experiences) is a ‘factitious disorder’, or form of mental illness, in which people repeatedly act as if they suffer physical or mental disorders when, in fact, they have caused the symptoms to themselves. They undergo painful tests to get the attention/sympathy associated with serious illness.

Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome (MBPS) is a variation whereby a caregiver (usually mother) fabricates/exaggerates symptoms of illness in a child, again for attention and sympathy. It also is a mental condition, which the sufferer is not normally aware of experiencing.

Others recognise their problems. Kenny Rogers, lead vocal with The First Edition, took the Mickey Newbury song, Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) into the Top Ten in 1968, since when analysis or ‘shrink wrap’ treatments have become as commonplace as stress and bereavement counselling.

Bizarre, Scarcely Believable

Oddee, a website publishing weird and unusual stories, identified 10 people with conditions that defy credibility. A British woman (Sarah Carmen) suffered from Permanent Sexual Arousal Syndrome (PSAS), with increased blood flow to her sexual organs that few people could experience. Another Briton, John Perry, ate unlimited amounts of absolutely anything from pies to desserts, and never put on weight, as his body had lipodystrophy, where it burned fat rapidly.

Wim Hof, a Dutchman, could feel no cold. He climbed Mt Blanc in shorts in icy wind, stood in ice bins, swam under ice and defied medical explanation, thriving in conditions that would kill most people. American toddler Rhett Lamb was the boy who couldn’t sleep at all with compression of his brain stem into the spinal column. He was finally diagnosed with chiari malformation.

Australian Ashleigh Morris was totally allergic to water; even sweating brought her out in a rash. She was diagnosed with a very rare skin disorder called Aquagenic Urticaria (AU). A 40-year-old woman, code named AJ to protect her identity, suffered ‘nonstop, uncontrollable and automatic memory’, in which she recalled every detail of any given day over past 25 years. Neurocase magazine named it: Hyperthymestic Syndrome (HS).

Natalie Cooper from Kent, UK, was sick every time she ate anything, except the mint sweets, Tic Tacs. Doctors could not explain it, but fed her required nutrients through a tube. British singer Chris Sands was unable to stop hiccoughing, possibly through a faulty stomach valve. Kay Underwood collapsed instantly whenever she experienced strong anger, fear, exhilaration, surprise through a condition labelled cataplexy, on top of her narcolepsy.

Brit Debbie Bird found herself allergic to the electromagnetic field created by cell phones, microwaves and computers, and had to live in a home devoid of the electronic equipment of the 21st century that most people regard as essential.

To Name It, Is To Acknowledge It

Before myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) was acknowledged as a medical condition legitimising time off work, it was nicknamed ‘yuppie flu’. In much the same way, any man who suffers flu is accused of suffering ‘man flu’, as if it is a made-up illness to gain more sympathy; while women tend to soldier on with flu.

It took years for the effects on women of pre-menstrual tension (PMT), or post-natal depression (PND) to be acknowledged. People seriously depressed during dark winter periods became recognised as sufferers of Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD) only in 1984, prior to which the medical establishment was sceptical. In the summer, it is called reverse seasonal affected disorder.

There is a full range of behavioural disorders among children, when he/she noticeably behaves differently from what is expected in school or community. Descriptors like conduct disorders, emotional disturbances/disorders are interchangeable, characterised by aggression to people and animals, destruction of property, no empathy for others, defiance and lack of responsibility for their actions.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder (OCD) bipolar disorder (BD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) are now well established educational/medical terms to describe conditions. They lead to management and intervention plans in schools and institutions. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) explains a lot of previously misunderstood behaviour.

In late 2010, Dr Roman Gerodimos from University of Maryland published a study that found volunteers who did not tune into text messages, emails, Facebook or Twitter updates for a full 24 hours, began to show signs of ‘cold turkey’ similar to withdrawals experienced by drug addicts. Gerodimos said it wasn’t just ‘psychological symptoms, also physical ones’. The condition was named Information Deficit Disorder (IDD) in 2009.

It seems that every condition, fear, phobia, obsession or quirk of human behaviour needs a name that becomes a handy acronym. To take just two letters to illustrate the point: SA in medical terms can mean Sexual Activity, Sinus Arrhythmia, Social Anxiety, Sperm Activity, Substance Abuse or Suicide Attempt. Life by acronym has long ruled much public life in the west. In due time, there may a name/acronym for this condition of naming/alphabetising everything.

First published on Suite 101, 12 January 2011.

Photo: Pills Can Treat Real Conditions or Be Placebos – Tom Varco

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