Weird Medical Conditions

Your go to for interesting medical knowledge

Stiff Person Syndrome — August 7, 2015

Stiff Person Syndrome

Stiff person syndrome is a very rare (affecting only 1 in 1,000,000) neurological disorder causing progressive stiffness and rigidity in the muscles of the torso and upper legs. The disease usually starts in the 40’s and is characterized by muscle spams primarily affecting the abdominal and lower back muscles and the condition gradually worsens over lifetime . These spasms often cause a condition called hyperlordosis which is when the lower back is pushed far more forward than normal, illustrated by the above picture. Additionally, the condition can include the hips, shoulder, arms and face. Symptoms can be exacerbated by stress, infection and cold weather, and sleep often decreases them.

Stiff person syndrome affects women twice as much as it does men and has an autoimmune as well as genetic basis. a majority of SPS patients have large amounts of antibodies against glutamate decarboxylase or GAD. Many people with SPS also have type 1 diabetes, as well as the DQB1* 0201 allele, a gene shared by those with SPS and diabetes.

SPS was described first in 1956 by Moersch and Woltman based on only 14 cases they had observed over three decades. The disease had previously been thought to be a psychogenic problem. Treatment includes benzodiazepines, corticosteroids, immunoglobulin and plasma exchange.

Stone Man Syndrome — July 9, 2015

Stone Man Syndrome

Stone man syndrome, or fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), is a rare (one in two million) disease of the connective tissue which causes tendons, ligaments, muscle, aponueroses, etc. to turn in to bone whenever they are injured. Further, even without injury connective tissue will spontaneously turn to bone over a person’s life, usually causing their death around of the age of 40. The gene that causes ossification of tissue, which usually is deactivated before birth, continues to operate in people with FOP. There is no cure for people with FOP and pain management is the only current treatment. However, some studies are being done with compounds derived from sharks that prevent bone formation, as well as research looking in to using RNA interference to stop the gene causing FOP from expressing itself.

The best known case of FOP is Henry Eastlack (1933-1973) who was diagnosed with the disease when he was ten and by the time he was almost 40 he was only able to move his lips. He died of pneumonia before his 40th birthday. A common way of diagnosing the disease is by looking for a specific birth defect of the great toe in newborns wherein the toe has a valgus deformation, or a turning of the big toe away from the center of the body.

FOP has been described as earlier as 1753 when a letter to the Royal Society from the surgeon John Freke described a 14 year old boy with bony growth abnormalities on his back that was described as bodice made of bone. The surgeon mentioned no other symptoms. Although rare, this is one disease that seems capable of making life a living hell


Chinese restaurant syndrome — June 16, 2015

Chinese restaurant syndrome

Chinese restaurant syndrome is a condition reported to be caused by monosodium glutamate that Chinese restaurants are stereotypically purported to include in their dishes to add the savory flavoring to their dishes. It was first reported by a Chinese immigrant name Robert Ho Man Kwok who wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine describing a condition that he developed after dining in  American Chinese restaurants. In the letter he complains of “…numbness at the back of the neck, gradually radiating to both arms and the back, general weakness and palpitation.” Other symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath and numbness of the lips or throat. The symptoms usually resolve on their own without treatment and have no lasting problems. For a look at Chinese restaurant syndrome, also called “hot dog headache” and and “MSG syndrome”, check these sites:

It is important to note that no rigorous scientific study has actually linked monosodium glutatamate to this condition and thus it is possible if not likely that MSG is not the cause of Chinese restaurant syndrome. Not only is it a stereotype that Chinese restaurants dump lots of MSG in their foods, fast food restaurants in the US are possibly the worst MSG users in the world. This site makes the claim that we should start calling it “American restaurant syndrome” given the amount of MSG fast food restaurants dump in to their food. This site discusses the history of the Chinese restaurant syndrome controversy and sets it in the context of the use of MSG in both Chinese restaurants and the American diet in general. While there is no proof that MSG causes Chinese restaurant syndrome and very likely that the whole concept is based on a racist stereotype, it is an interesting condition nonetheless. Finally, here is another article discussing the link between MSG and Chinese restaurant syndrome from an anti MSG group called “Truth in Labeling”. I leave it to you to make up your mind.

p.s. The picture of the restaurant accompanying this article seems to be of a Japanese restaurant. However, it was the only good picture I found on the creative commons so I am using it.

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