Sometimes people develop ailments so mysterious they baffle doctors. These medical cases can make scientists question everything they thought they knew about the human body and the diseases that afflict it. These 10 reports published in 2022 chronicle a variety of odd — and often disconcerting — medical cases so unique that doctors felt compelled to share them with the medical field at large.
1. Red rash appears to 'crawl'
A 64-year-old man in Spain developed a rash of red, wavy lines on his body, and over time, the lines seemed to migrate across his flesh. The lines turned out to be roundworms wriggling beneath his skin. Fortunately, the man received prompt treatment with the antiparasitic drug ivermectin, and his rash disappeared.
2. Ruptured bladder linked to shingles
A 77-year-old man with shingles needed surgery after he experienced an unusual complication of the infection: His bladder burst open. In rare instances, shingles can cause urinary retention, where the bladder doesn't empty enough or at all when you urinate. However, to the case report authors' knowledge, theirs is the first report of someone's bladder rupturing due to shingles-related urinary retention.
3. Weird wrinkles that come and go
A young man's hands became unusually wrinkly whenever he immersed them in water, and the strange symptom turned out to be caused by a rare disease. The cause of the disease, called aquagenic syringeal acrokeratoderma, is unknown, but it's thought that it may partially stem from a genetic mutation and have something to do with abnormal sweat glands.
4. Sudden dizziness with a rare cause
A woman went to the doctor after suddenly feeling extremely dizzy for no obvious reason. Doctors found air bubbles trapped in the patient's ear, which might have been expected if she'd experienced some sort of head trauma, ear surgery or temporal bone fracture. As she hadn't, her doctors suspected her unusual case was caused by a spontaneous tear in a membrane inside her ear.
5. Hoarse voice caused by fungus
Over the course of months, a man's voice grew progressively more hoarse and his speech became shrill and grating. Doctors discovered the cause of his hoarseness to be fungus — specifically the yeast Blastomyces dermatitidis — growing in his larynx, the hollow "voice box" that holds the vocal folds.
6. 'Toxic squash syndrome'
A bitter drink sent a woman into shock, a life-threatening condition where blood flow in the body plummets and organs can be injured from lack of oxygen. She'd made the drink from pureed bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria), a light-green, normally mild fruit. However, the fruit naturally produces bitter-tasting chemicals called cucurbitacins, which can have toxic effects if consumed in large enough quantities; commercially grown bottle gourds tend to be low in cucurbitacins, but in this case, the plant had accumulated a large amount.
7. Vomiting linked to unknown autoimmune disorder
A woman would experience severe bouts of vomiting that sometimes caused her to retch more than 30 times in a day. Based on her symptoms, doctors diagnosed the patient with "cyclic vomiting syndrome," a disorder characterized by sudden vomiting attacks interspersed with long periods without symptoms. They also determined that an autoimmune disorder seems to drive her vomiting episodes, although they're still working out how.
8. 'Exceedingly enlarged' mass found in man's chest
An otherwise healthy 22-year-old man visited his doctor about a worrisome cough that wouldn't go away. Scans revealed a large mass measuring nearly 7 inches (17.2 centimeters) long lurking in the right half of the patient's chest. A biopsy suggested that the mass wasn't cancerous and doctors successfully removed it in a surgery.
9. More than 50 batteries in woman's gut
Doctors removed 50 batteries from a woman's gut and stomach after she swallowed them in an apparent act of deliberate self-harm. Prior to surgery, the woman had already passed five AA batteries in the hospital, bringing the total number of ingested batteries to 55. After her procedure, an X-ray scan confirmed that the woman's GI tract was battery-free and she went on to have an "uneventful recovery."
10. Accidental caffeine overdose
A man died from a caffeine overdose after accidentally consuming several grams of potent caffeine powder, which contained an equivalent amount of caffeine to about 200 cups of coffee. The fatal dose pushed the man into cardiac arrest and he died after being taken to the hospital.
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Nicoletta Lanese is the health channel editor at Live Science and was previously a news editor and staff writer at the site. She holds a graduate certificate in science communication from UC Santa Cruz and degrees in neuroscience and dance from the University of Florida. Her work has appeared in The Scientist, Science News, the Mercury News, Mongabay and Stanford Medicine Magazine, among other outlets. Based in NYC, she also remains heavily involved in dance and performs in local choreographers' work.