The human body is an incredibly strange marvel of nature. Genetics, embryonic development, and other factors allow the potential for you and I to exist, but hidden within them are the strange and shocking things that can happen when something goes wrong. Recessive genes, genetic mutations, exposure to toxins in the womb, and other abnormalities can lead to some incredibly bizarre medical conditions. These rare conditions affect just a few people, statistically, across the world, but they represent a fascinating look into the weirder side of medical science.
Hypertrichosis, or “Werewolf Syndrome”
Hypertrichosis is a rare condition that leads to abnormal hair growth all over the body, giving it the nickname “werewolf syndrome.” It can often be congenital, meaning it’s present since birth, but in some cases, it’s acquired later in life. When congenital, it’s caused by a mutation on the 8q chromosome, although researchers think it can also arise from a spontaneous mutation, rather than regular genetic inheritance. It can also be caused by cancer, although no one knows the mechanism for this. In a few cases, people have ironically developed a localized variant of hypertrichosis from minoxidil, a medication designed to prevent hair loss.
Porphyria, or “Vampire Syndrome”
Porphyrias are a group of related disorders, in which chemicals called porphyrins build up at a high level within the body. Porphyrins are generally converted to heme, a major constituent of blood, via enzymes that are deficient in people with porphyria. Porphyrias fall into two categories: acute and cutaneous. Acute porphyrias are marked by a sudden onset, generally characterized by abdominal pain, nausea, high blood pressure, and elevated heart rate. Non-acute porphyrias present with serious skin symptoms, as the excess porphyrins accumulate in the skin. Porphyrins are highly light sensitive, so sun exposure damages the skin. Many researchers postulate that porphyria may account for certain aspects of vampire folklore.
Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, or “Statue Syndrome”
Fibrodysplasia is an extremely rare, progressive disease of the body’s connective tissue. It’s caused by a rare mutation that causes fibrous tissues like muscles, tendons, and ligaments to suddenly turn into bone when damaged. The disease typically begins to manifest in the neck, back, and limbs, eventually progressing across the entire body. FOP is an autosomal dominant disease, meaning children have a 50% chance of inheriting the disease from their parents. There is no treatment for FOP, and any attempt to remove the extra bone will only lead to faster bone growth.
Epidermodysplasia verruciformis, or “Tree Man Illness”
This rare, bizarre disorder is recessive and hereditary. Suffers experience cancer-like skin growths that often resemble the leaves and branches of a tree. The tumors eventually spread all over the body.
Progeria is one of the most tragic conditions on this list. Also known as “accelerated aging,” progeria is a disease affecting young children with the physiological signs and problems of aging. Progeria manifests at a very early age, and is caused by a genetic mutation that occurs at random and isn’t known to be heritable. There is no cure, and few progeria patients reach the age of 13. Most progeria patients die during childhood from a heart attack or stroke.