Medical science has come a long way over the years. We’ve found treatments for the Black Death, we created a vaccine for chicken pox, and we’ve completely done away with diseases like smallpox and rinderpest worldwide. You’d think we were on top of our game! But the truth is, there are still some diseases science just can’t explain.
These mystery diseases range from epidemics of dancing dating back to the 1500s, to illnesses that once attacked cows and now attack humans today. Some are almost comical in nature, and others are horrifying, incurable, and deadly. The fact is, we may never know the causes of a few of these illnesses, but research is ongoing, and for some of these, we can only hope the answers come soon.
Of course, what we do know for now is downright fascinating. So read on to find out more about 18 strange diseases science doesn’t understand… yet.
Foreign Accent Syndrome
This condition is incredibly rare, and we honestly have no idea what causes it. For no apparent reason, a person will begin speaking in an accent different from their own, and will be unable to stop. Some sufferers don’t even realize they’re doing it! Though we know this is an issue with the brain, we don’t know why this happens.
Burning Mouth Syndrome
You know that feeling of your mouth being on fire when you eat spicy foods? Well, imagine if that happened to you for no reason, all the time. Burning mouth syndrome happens when a person has a chronic feeling of burning in their tongue, gums, or whole mouth with no apparent cause. There are a few treatments, but mostly, this is a problem that you’ll need a dentist to help you manage.
Also called kuru by the people of New Guinea in the 1950s, this tragic disease is hardly anything to scoff at. When it occurs, the brain slowly degrades, to the point where a person loses their ability to speak, walk, and control their own muscles. During this time, people will sometimes have bursts of unexpected laughter. We still have no idea why this disease hit the people of New Guinea exactly the way it did, but we believe that it had something to do with cannibalism. As if this disease couldn’t get any cheerier.
This is not to be confused with multiple personality disorder, as it’s often portrayed in popular media. Schizophrenia has a plethora of different symptoms, many of which change from person to person, including hearing voices, paranoia, disorganized speech and thought, and difficulty perceiving what is real and what is not. This disease has been studied for decades upon decades, but we still do not fully understand the root cause, nor have we found any cure.
Clinically called aquagenic urticaria, those who suffer from this allergy break out in painful and itchy lesions when exposed to water. That means no swimming, no bathing, even problems drinking water. We know that the problem here has to do with a genetic mutation, but as to what causes that mutation? We’ve got no clue.
Stiff Person Syndrome
The title for this one is pretty self-explanatory. This rare disease attacks the nervous system and can cause someone to gradually stiffen all over, starting with the muscles near the spine and lower extremities. There appears to be a slight association with diabetes, and the issue is more common in women, but no one has ever figured out what the main cause is. There is also no cure and no way to predict if someone will have it until symptoms appear.
Peruvian Meteorite Illness
Once upon a time, in 2007, a meteor crashed down in the high plains of Peru. People who approached the site from nearby villages reported dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and other symptoms. Twelve or thirteen people were stricken with illness, and many were treated for symptoms. While there are theories, the actual cause of this illness is not known for sure.
Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder
Let’s try to keep things clinical with this one, ok? This issue is found in women, and unlike other forms of sexual dysfunction, this syndrome causes excessive and persistent arousal at all times. So, basically, these women are turned on all the time, which can be a problem when you’re in a serious business meeting, for example. We’re not sure what causes this, and while there are treatments, there’s no known cure.
Alice in Wonderland Syndrome
This syndrome would be pretty cool if it wasn’t so terrifying. People who suffer from AIWS have a changing perception of their own size and the size of things around them. In short, sometimes these people literally feel two inches high. While we know that migraines are often linked to this, there are no known effective treatments or cures, and the condition is still being studied.
You’ve heard of the bubonic plague, and maybe the pneumonic plague, but what about the dancing plague? Back in 1518, around 400 people suddenly found that they simply had to dance. This sounds kind of fun, and it probably was, until people’s hearts gave out and they started dying. Other cases have popped up throughout history, but this was probably the most extreme case, and it has never been fully explained, though some people think it had to do with mass hysteria.
This is easily every new parent’s worst nightmare. Sudden infant death syndrome happens without warning for no apparent reason, and we don’t fully understand why. It happens during sleep, and while you can reduce risk factors, it comes on so suddenly that there is no cure. As you might guess, there’s a ton of research going on to try to figure out more about this horrifying syndrome.
Luckily enough, we do understand what hiccups are. They’re an involuntary contraction of the diaphragm, at the same time as a contraction of the voice box closes the throat to prevent air intake. Thus, you make a weird noise. No one knows why these start happening, however, and while there are a million and a half remedies on the Internet, there’s no definitive cure. That’s not a big deal for most of us, but for people who have it for decades, that kinda sucks.
If you’ve ever heard of kids eating bugs, then congratulations, you’ve heard of pica. This eating disorder makes people eat things that are not food, such as insects, dirt, clay, and paste. It mostly effects children, but it can happen to pregnant women, adults, and people with developmental disabilities. There are several factors that could contribute to this disorder, but we’re not certain of the main cause or how to fully cure it.
Mad cow disease was a major buzzword for a while in the ’90s, though panic about it seems to have died out. Unfortunately, it has a horrible sibling that infects humans instead of cows. This human version, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, has killed hundreds of people worldwide, and does so by destroying the brain over a period of time. It has no means of being cured or even controlled, and we don’t fully understand it yet, so your only hope is that you never, ever contract the disease in the first place.
This mysterious skin condition isn’t so much deadly as it is annoying and distressing. People who suffer from morgellons have strange skin sores and rashes, experience a crawling sensation under the skin, and eventually fibers, threads, or black stringy material come out of the sores on their skin. We’re still studying what causes this problem, and what exactly the fibers are, so maybe science can come up with some answers on this sooner rather than later.
Also known as Hutchinson-Gilford syndrome, this illness makes people appear to age faster than they should. This means hair loss, wrinkling of the skin, stunted growth, and problems with internal organs. Most children who get this illness die before the age of 13. There is no cure, and while we’re aware this is a genetic problem, what exactly causes it to happen is a mystery.
Can you imagine never being able to smile? This is a reality for people with Moebius syndrome. This condition cases weakness or paralysis in the muscles of the face, and can result in the affected person being unable to frown, smile, or even blink. This seems to appear starting at birth, and happens at random, with no prior family history. Just thinking about it makes blinking seem pretty awesome right now.
The fight against this particular illness is never-ending. Alzheimer’s attacks the brain and the nervous system, and is the most common form of dementia. It is not a normal part of aging, and eventually leads to death. There is no cure, and treatments vary in effectiveness from person to person, and we still truly do not understand this disease, from symptoms to causes. But funding for research on Alzheimer’s is constantly flowing, so we can all hope there’s some major progress towards curing this disease soon