The 16 Strangest Medical Cases of 2016
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The 16 Strangest Medical Cases of 2016
From puzzling lumps and bumps to bewildering bodily reactions, medical case reports provide unique insight into how the human body functions and how doctors solve medical mysteries.
They also bring up questions you never thought you'd ask. For example, why did a man lose his sense of smell after being bitten by a snake? And what are the effects of sniffing computer cleaner for years?
Read on for the 16 strangest case reports that Live Science covered in 2016.
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Ghost pepper leads to torn esophagus
Ghost peppers are among the hottest chili peppers in the world, coming in at more than 1 million Scoville units, which experts use to measure the "heat" of peppers. (For comparison, jalapeños measure about 5,000 Scoville units.)
A 47-year-old man in California felt the full fiery force of the ghost pepper after eating a hamburger topped with a ghost pepper puree, according to a case report published online in September in The Journal of Emergency Medicine.
After eating the pepper, the man started vomiting and couldn't stop. His vomiting was so violent that it tore a hole in his esophagus — a condition that, if left untreated, is almost always fatal.
The man spent 23 days in the hospital, and was later sent home with a feeding tube, along with little desire to try another ghost pepper in the future.
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A 38-year-old woman's nausea and inability to keep any food down was caused by an incredibly rare condition called "Rapunzel syndrome."
Named for the fairy tale princess with incredibly long hair, the condition occurs when a person has a hairball in his or her stomach, and the hairball has a tail that extends into the intestines. It's caused by a psychiatric disorder called trichophagia, in which people compulsively swallow their own hair.
In the woman's case, doctors removed two hairballs surgically. The first, found in her stomach, measured 6 by 4 inches (15 by 10 centimeters) and had a short tail extending into her small intestine. The second hairball was found farther down in the woman's small intestine, and measured 1 by 1.5 inches (3 by 4 cm), according to the case report, which was published in October in the journal BMJ Case Reports.
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A multitude of moles
A 48-year-old woman sprouted thousands of moles on her torso and extremities in just a few months, and doctors couldn't figure out why.
Such an explosion of moles — a condition called eruptive nevi — is uncommon but not unheard of, according to the doctor who treated the woman. It may be caused by changes in hormone levels, certain medications or problems with the immune system. However, none of these causes could explain the moles that appeared in the woman's case.
Several of the moles, but not all of them, did turn out to be cancer. The woman will probably need lifelong skin surveillance to monitor for melanoma, according to the doctors who treated her.
Her case was described in May in the journal JAMA Dermatology.
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Wasp sting causes man's stroke
Watch out for wasps: In one man's case, a sting from the angry insect led to a stroke.
About 1 hour after being stung by a wasp while working outside, the 44-year-old man showed several telltale signs of having a stroke, including difficulty speaking, paralysis on one side of his body and a facial "droop."
There are several ways a wasp sting could lead to a stroke, according to the case report, which was published in August in The Journal of Emergency Medicine. For example, certain compounds in wasp venom can cause blood to clot, which can lead to a stroke. Or, if a person has an allergic reaction to a sting, his or her blood pressure can drop, which can lower blood flow to the head.
In the man's case, the reason the wasp sting led to a stroke was unclear. The man has since recovered and is doing well, according to the doctors who treated him.
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Don't huff dust spray
A 28-year-old man developed a rare type of bone disease, called skeletal fluorosis, due to his habit of huffing computer cleaner. The disease causes a person's bones to become too dense, which can lead to deformation.
Skeletal fluorosis is prevalent in parts of the world where fluoride levels in drinking water are too high. However, the disease is rare in North America and Europe, so the doctors who treated the man had trouble figuring out what caused the man's disease.
They eventually figured out that the man had a habit of inhaling computer dust spray to get high. The spray contains a chemical called difluoroethane, which is made up of the elements carbon, hydrogen and fluorine. In the body, the breakdown of the compound may produce fluoride.
The man was able to quit his habit of inhaling the dust spray, and he underwent hip-replacement surgery to help with some of the damage to his hip joints, according to a report of the man's case, published in July in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.
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Snakebite leads to lost sense of smell
After being bitten by a venomous snake, a man in Australia lost his sense of smell for more than a year.
The 30-year-old man initially went to the hospital after being bitten by the snake, which was a mulga snake, but he was not given anti-venom because the doctors did not think his symptoms were severe enough to need the medicine, according to a report of his case, published in February in the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience.
But several days after the man was bitten, he noticed his sense of smell starting to deteriorate, and within weeks, he lost the ability to smell completely.
The doctors who treated the man said that although bites from the mulga snake rarely affect the nervous system, bites from other types of snakes have been shown to affect a person's sense of smell.
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Man swallows cellphone
A prisoner in Ireland swallowed a cellphone, and doctors had trouble removing it using their usual approaches.
The doctors initially waited 18 hours to see if the cellphone would move through the man's digestive tract, but it remained lodged in his stomach, according to a report of the man's case, which was published in April in the International Journal of Surgery Case Reports.
The doctors tried to remove the phone by pulling it up through his esophagus, using medical tools such as forceps and snare-like devices, but the mobile phone couldn't be aligned properly to be pulled out of the stomach.
Ultimately, the cellphone had to be removed surgically, according to the report.
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There are many reasons to avoid bringing your smartphone into your bedroom, including temporary "blindness."
Two unrelated women in the United Kingdom told doctors that they had trouble seeing out of one eye when they were in bed at night. But these vision problems occurred only after the women had looked at their smartphones for several minutes, while lying on their sides, according to the report, published in June in The New England Journal of Medicine.
The doctors wrote in their report that they thought the problem resulted when the women viewed their smartphones with just one eye while lying down and the other eye was blocked by their pillow. In this situation, the eye looking at the smartphone becomes adapted to the light, and the eye blocked by the pillow becomes adapted to the dark. When the smartphone is turned off, the light-adjusted eye is perceived to be "blind" until it adjusts to the dark.
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A case of "temporary kleptomania"
While it's no surprise that cosmetic surgery comes with some side effects, a 40-year-old Brazilian woman wasn't expecting to come out of surgery with a temporary psychiatric condition.
Several days after having an operation that included a tummy tuck and breast augmentation, the woman began to have "an irresistible compulsion toward stealing," according to the case report, published in January in the journal BMJ Case Reports.
The most likely explanation for the woman's symptoms is that at some point during or right after her surgery, she suffered from inadequate blood flow to the brain, according to one of the doctors who treated her. This could have led to brain damage, which, in turn, might have led to the woman's symptoms of kleptomania.
The woman's brain damage eventually healed, and her neurological symptoms went away, according to the report.
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A 20-foot tapeworm finds a home
A 38-year-old Chinese man's gut was home to a tapeworm for more than two years.
By the time the man was diagnosed with an infection, the parasite, called Taenia saginata or beef tapeworm, had grown to a length of 20 feet (6 meters), according to the report, published in January in The New England Journal of Medicine.
The man likely contracted the tapeworm by eating raw beef; people can become infected with the parasite by eating raw or undercooked beef from a contaminated cow.
Tapeworms can live in a person's gut for years and cause no symptoms. It wasn't until the man started to experience symptoms such as stomach pain, weight loss and vomiting that he finally went to a doctor. [The 10 Most Diabolical and Disgusting Parasites]
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A mysterious cause of the hiccups
What do you do when your hiccups won't go away? One 35-year-old man went to the hospital three times, looking for a solution, according to a case report published in January in the journal BMJ Case Reports.
The first two times he went to the hospital, he was given medication to relieve his intractable hiccups, which are hiccups lasting longer than two days. However, his hiccups kept returning.
It wasn't until the third visit that the doctors discovered that the man had a tumor in the back of his neck that was pressing up against his phrenic nerve. The phrenic nerve sends signals from the brain to the diaphragm, which is the muscle just below the lungs that controls breathing. Because the tumor was compressing the nerve, it sent disturbed signals to the diaphragm, causing it to contract involuntarily, leading to the hiccups.
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A basketball-size cyst, hidden from view
A young woman in England with abdominal pain and a feeling of fullness was repeatedly told by her family doctor that her symptoms were due to her obesity.
But when the woman complained of pain on her left side, the doctors gave her an ultrasound exam, because they suspected that the pain might have been caused by a kidney stone.
It was only then that the doctors discovered a basketball-size cyst on the woman's ovary, according to the report, published in January in the journal BMJ Case Reports.
The simple ultrasound test was all that was needed to detect the cyst. However, her family doctor had not investigated further and had attributed her pain to her weight, the report said.
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Europe reports first death from recluse-spider bite
A woman in Italy died shortly after being bitten by a Mediterranean recluse spider, a relative of the notorious brown recluse spider found in the United States.
The death was the first reported due to a bite from this type of spider, according to the report, published in August in the journal Case Reports in Emergency Medicine.
The spider's venom is toxic to human red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen in the blood. Without enough red blood cells, the organs in the body don't get enough oxygen.
Anti-venom for recluse-spider bites isn't available in Italy (or the United States), so the only way doctors could try to save the woman was through supportive care. In other words, the doctors tried to treat her symptoms and keep her alive until the body rid itself of the venom. However, the woman died about 12 hours after being admitted to the hospital, according to the report.
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Man benefits from donating blood
Giving blood is a good way to help others, but for one 83-year-old man, giving blood also provided personal benefits.
The man had given blood regularly for about 20 years, according to the report, published in August in the journal BMJ Case Reports. However, it wasn't until much later in life that he learned that this act of kindness helped keep his symptoms of a hereditary disease at bay.
The man had a condition called hereditary haemochromatosis, which causes the body to absorb too much iron from food. Too much iron in the body can have wide-ranging effects, including liver damage.
The only way to treat the disease is to remove the iron from the body, which is done by drawing blood — in other words, what the man had been doing for years.
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A 37-year-old woman's severe delusions turned out to have a common cause: gluten.
The woman, who had been studying to get her Ph.D. before her delusions began, was found to have celiac disease, and the delusions appeared to stem from the condition, according to a report of her case, published in May in The New England Journal of Medicine.
However, doctors had a difficult time getting the woman to follow a gluten-free diet, as her delusions led her to believe her doctors were being deceitful with their diagnosis.
The woman eventually stopped eating gluten, and her symptoms went away. However, when she inadvertently consumed the ingredient, the symptoms returned.
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Man's bladder is encased in calcium
The man, who had been experiencing pain when he urinated and had seen blood in his urine, was infected with the Schistosoma parasite, which is common in many parts of the world.
The parasitic worms were living near the man's bladder and ureters, which are the tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder. The eggs of the parasite had entered the man's bladder and had become deposited on the bladder wall. In response, the body caused that part of the bladder wall to become calcified.
Indeed, when the doctors did a scan of the man's pelvis, they observed a thin rim of calcification resembling an egg shell forming a border around his bladder. It can take years for the calcification to go away after the infection has been treated.
Originally published on Live Science.