Health

11 Crazy Diseases Most People Don't Believe Are Real

Published On 09/29/2015 Published On 09/29/2015
iStock/Kondor83

While you might love binge-watching House to the point that you're pretty sure you could walk into an ER and reveal the origins of mysterious illnesses, you know that in the real world, medical conditions aren't always as strange as they are on TV.

In fact, they're way stranger. If you're ready to bump up your hypochondria level, check these 11 all-too-real conditions, like exploding head syndrome, sudden unexpected death syndrome, and more. Sleep tight!

iStock/OcusFocus

Fatal familial insomnia makes people unable to ever sleep again

What the hell?!
Sleep is so awesome that most people do it every night. But for sufferers of fatal familial insomnia, a rare disorder inherited from a parent, it becomes impossible. As a result, people begin to experience paranoia, hallucinations, dementia, and other symptoms, eventually dying after months without sleep.

How... how does this happen?
A hereditary gene mutation is to blame. 
 

Aquagenic urticaria sufferers are allergic to water

What the hell?!
For people with aquagenic urticaria, contact with water means breaking out in hives, which makes daily tasks like showering a challenge. And it gets worse. People with the condition (obviously) have had to make serious life changes, including adopting a vegetarian diet just to prevent their bodies from creating more oil.

How... how does this happen?
No one's really sure, yet. The condition mainly affects women, but it's so uncommon that it's not well understood. The belief that it has to do with an allergic reaction to chemicals within water, such as fluoride, has been disproven.
 

Electromagnetic hypersensitivity makes people break out in a rash when exposed to electromagnetic fields

What the hell!?
Yep, it's real. For a small portion of the population, being around power lines, cell phones, and other sources of electromagnetic radiation results in headaches, fatigue, aching muscles, skin redness, and a whole bunch of other unpleasant symptoms. Though there's been no definitive scientific link between exposure to these signals and the resulting symptoms, it's something to keep in mind next time you're mad about a weak Wi-Fi signal.

How... how does this happen?
This one's another mystery. According to the World Health Organization, there have been enough reports of this condition to recognize it as a real thing, but the cause hasn't been found.

Wikimedia/tangi bertin

Cotard's delusion makes people think they're dead

What the hell?!
Despite, well, overwhelming evidence to the contrary, people with Cotard's delusion believe that they're dead, or that parts of their body don't exist. The delusion was first studied in 1880, when French neurologist Jules Cotard delivered a lecture on a patient who believed she was damned to eternal damnation, could not die of natural causes, and therefore didn't need to eat.

She died of starvation.

Sufferers will sometimes believe they're in hell, using clues as basic as warm weather to confirm their suspicions.

How... how does this happen?
The jury is still out on this one. Neural misfiring is a potential cause. So is an adverse reaction to drugs. But like many mental health issues, there's no definitive explanation just yet.
 

The Jumping Frenchmen of Maine were exactly what they sound like

What the hell?!
In 19th-century Maine, a group of lumberjacks exhibited what must be the most specific nervous condition in history. All seemed to suffer from an extremely sensitive startle response. In mild examples of the condition, they were easily prone to jumping and screaming when surprised. On the more extreme end of the spectrum, their response could result in violence. Think the most nervous person in the world after drinking 10 cups of coffee. Now think of an entire group of lumberjacks like that. Now be glad you don't live in 19th-century Maine.

How... how does this happen?
Since the condition affected a close group of people with similar roots, some researchers think genetics were to blame, while others assume that there may have been cultural causes that conditioned the behavior. Another theory is that these men actually had a form of Tourette syndrome, but there's no real consensus.
 

Exploding head syndrome makes you hear insanely loud sounds in your own head

What the hell?!
First of all, don't worry; no one's head is literally exploding, Scanners style. That said, exploding head syndrome is even more annoying than your high school punk band of the same name. Sufferers report hearing extremely loud sounds, similar to gunshots or cymbal crashes, in their own heads. Untreated, the condition can cause sleep problems.

How... how does this happen?
The physical cause isn't yet known, but most people with exploding head syndrome tend to be heavily stressed, which may be one explanation. This is kind of a chicken-egg scenario, though: you'd be stressed too if you heard random gunshots.

Wikimedia/Henry Fuseli

Sudden unexplained death syndrome is real-life Nightmare on Elm Street

What the hell?!
Director Wes Craven got the idea for A Nightmare on Elm Street when he read a series of news stories about young men who were dying in their sleep after complaining about intense, disturbing nightmares. It's believed they were suffering from sudden unexplained death syndrome, the pants-crappingly named condition in which people die while sleeping without any clear cause.

How... how does this happen?
Given the nature of this condition, causes are sometimes unknown, sometimes varied, but it has been noticed that it seems to mainly affect young men from Southeast Asia. The fact that their folklore involves demons that kill people in their sleep (hopefully) has nothing to do with it. Sweet dreams!
 

Congenital insensitivity to pain prevents you from feeling pain

What the hell?!
Real life is no comic book, and the inability to feel pain is seriously dangerous, since pain is your body's way of telling you, "Dude, don't put your hand in the fire." People with congenital insensitivity to pain don't feel pain, though. Some never have. And it's not the cool superpower you might imagine. They often fail to notice issues like infections, objects in the eye, and even broken bones, resulting in serious health problems.

How... how does this happen?
Causes vary, but it's usually another inherited genetic mutation.
 

Hyperthymesia makes people remember every day of their life

What the hell?!
Memories fade for a million reasons. They weren't significant enough to make an impression, they happened a long time ago, it was a Friday night in college... the list goes on. Hyperthymesia, however, causes some people to start remembering every detail of every day of their life, usually starting from a specific date in adolescence. This might seem like a sweet party trick, until you realize that anyone with hyperthymesia is subject to such an onslaught of memory that typical mental functions are a chore. Plus, adolescence is already full of memories we'd all like to forget.

How... how does this happen?
There are only about 25 confirmed cases, which means there isn't enough data yet to study the issue.

iStock/Squaredpixels

Primary sex headaches mean some people get headaches just by watching porn

What the hell?!
File this one under life being unfair. Yep, there are people out there who get severe headaches from having sex. Although they aren't usually dangerous, they can, in some cases, last for days. There are also some unlucky people who get headaches by watching porn.

How... how does this happen?
poor connection between arteries and veins in the brain can be blamed. It's rarely a serious condition, but it has to be just the worst.
 

Mirror-touch synesthesia makes you literally feel what others are feeling

What the hell?!
Saying "I feel your pain" is usually just a way of pretending you care about someone's problems. In some cases, though, it's literally true. Mirror-touch synesthesia makes people actually feel the physical sensations of someone else when they see them being touched. Even fake touch, such as violence in a horror movie, makes sufferers uncomfortable.

How... how does this happen?
We all have "mirror neurons," and even if we don't notice it, they're at work. We see someone get suddenly hurt, we flinch. People with this condition likely have overactive mirror neurons. And hate Quentin Tarantino films. 

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Joe Oliveto is a writer for Thrillist and a hypochondriac, just now. Follow him on Twitter.

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