There are many diseases and illnesses out there, which despite the advances in medicine and medical technology, doctors still cannot seem to diagnose.

At that point, some doctors may argue that the symptoms that are only understood by the patient are psychological problems instead of physical ones. However it is difficult to draw the line as many of these patients seek to be understood and to be diagnosed instead of labelled a “mystery illness”.

Here are 5 of the rare illnesses that are commonly misunderstood to be “mystery illnesses”.

1. Empty nose syndrome

Patients with this syndrome are often cited to have breathing difficulties and a tight feeling in their nasal passages, yet otoscopes, CT scans and sinus X-rays turn out negative. It may be a side effect of a turbinectomy – a surgery that removes shelf-like structures (turbinates) in the nasal cavity – which would be ironic as the procedure is performed to relieve nasal obstructions.

One famous person who might have suffered from this syndrome could be Michael Jackson, who was known for undergoing recurring extreme nose surgeries. This syndrome is not one to be taken lightly as it has led to suicide attempts, psychiatric hospitalisations and even patient attacks on otolaryngologists. Yet, there is no explanation as to why they feel this way.

2. Complex regional disease

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is also known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome, Sudek’s syndrome or causalagia. It occurs in one or more limbs, causing chronic pain that can vary from burning, stinging, stabbing or throbbing pain. Like normal infected areas, the skin of affected areas is reported to be red (or blue) and hot with an increasing in sweating and a change in hair growth patterns is often also noticed. The affected area will also become swollen.

There is no explainable cause as CRPS can look like a normal injury when the limb has recently succumbed to a traumatising injury such as being fractured or crushed, but the pain the patient feels is often magnified out of proportion to the injury.

Doctors have speculated that the pain and symptoms may be associated with an error in the body’s immune system in response to the injury, a viral infection or a blood vessel damage that could not be seen.

3. Confabulation

Confabulation is a memory disorder whereby the affected individual produces false memories. They either “remember” events that never occurred or the events have occurred, however the time and place are false.

There is a physical association to confabulation, whereby the disorder occurs when patients have sustained damage to both the frontal lobes and the basal forebrain, after an aneurysm of the anterior communicating artery that may occur during a brain surgery or a concussion. The individual is not lying nor fabricating stories as the term “confabulate” traditionally means, but he or she truly believes in what they have said.

The causes as well as why and how this happens is not known, however it can be addressed with psychotherapy along with cognitive rehabilitation to help them become aware of their inaccuracies. It may or may not resolve on its own with time. Sometimes, patients might never stop confabulating.

4. Morgellons disease

Morgellons disease is associated with itching or crawling sensations on the skin, along with constant fatigue and joint pain. Odd reports of patients include visions of fibres or filaments that seem to be emerging from their skin. However the Centre of Disease Control (CDC) in the United States does not recognise this disease as there are no known physiological causes and they only termed it “an unexplained dermopathy”.

A research published by the CDC in 2012 reported patients who think they suffer from Morgellons often had cognitive impairments or underlying psychiatric illnesses. Patients reported their illness as “being in a ‘fog’”. The research team also looked into the fibres that patients described and found that they were of those that were found in common clothing. They concluded that the fibres stick to skin lesions and consequently patients would scratch their skin raw.

Whether this is a form of a ‘tic’ or a proper neurological disorder is still unknown.

5. Sneezing syndrome

There have been cases over the past decade about children constantly sneezing. Reports have shown that these children can sneeze up to 8,000 to 12,000 times a day, with a constant sneezing bout that can amount to 20 sneezes in a minute. There is no explanation as to why this happens.

However, in 2009, a then 12-year-old girl from Virginia managed to get her diagnosis, whereby it was found that her immune system was triggered by a bacterial throat infection.

Other cases such as another 12-year-old girl from Texas, reported constant sneezing but she still has not gotten a specific diagnosis. The only time she stops sneezing is when she is under the influence of Benadryl, an antihistamine used to treat sneezing. The most recent case was reported two months ago, from a nine-year-old girl from Colchester in the UK. Both girls have not been diagnosed with a proper cause yet.

Doctors speculate it to be either a form of a ‘tic’ or that it might be a neurological or sensory complication. MIMS


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