5 strange, rare, and fascinating medical conditions

There are medical conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, or asthma, that almost all of us will have heard of. But what about those that are so rare that very few of us will know about? In this Spotlight, we look at five of the rarest and strangest medical conditions on record.
anatomical model of the human bodyThe existence of rare and unusual medical conditions highlights how much we still have to learn about the human body.

Previously, Medical News Today have covered a range of medical conditions so unusual that, at first glance, you may even question if they were even real.

In our past Spotlight feature, we looked at the Alice in Wonderland syndrome, water allergy, the so-called walking corpse syndrome (Cotard’s syndrome), the “stone man” syndrome (fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva ), and alien hand syndrome.

Now, we add five more fascinating conditions to our list — from a syndrome that causes an individual to spontaneously produce pure alcohol in the gut, to one in which various body tissues grow out of proportion, severely altering a person’s appearance, and potentially leading to numerous other health problems.

“The human body is strange and flawed and unpredictable,” writes novelist Paul Auster in Sunset Park. In this Spotlight, we look at some of the most unusual ways in which the human body can be unpredictable.

Auto-brewery syndrome

Most of us only experience drunkenness — and the ensuing “rough morning” — after having had a few stiff drinks. While the alcohol may give us a pleasant “high” at first, the hangover is a harsh reminder that our bodies do not appreciate heavy partying all that much.

There are, however, people who experience intoxication and hangovers without drinking a significant amount of alcohol, or even without ingesting alcohol at all.

These people have a rare condition called auto-brewery syndrome or gut fermentation syndrome, in which pure alcohol (ethanol) is produced in a person’s gut after they have eaten carbohydrate-rich foods.

An excess of Saccharomyces cerevisiae — a type of yeast — in the gut is the main culprit, which leads to the fermentation process that produces ethanol.

However, researchers note that the spontaneously-produced alcohol would not be enough to land someone a drink-driving charge since it would not lead to high enough levels of blood alcohol.

Some cases are more severe than others

person taking breathalizer testWhile auto-brewery syndrome should not produce high levels of blood alcohol, some cases may be more severe.

However, a variation of this condition may have more severe effects.

Since the liver typically processes ethanol, people whose liver does not function properly may experience a form of auto-brewery syndrome in which the alcohol accumulates and lingers in the system for longer.

Some symptoms that accompany this condition include belching, chronic fatigue syndrome, dizziness, disorientation, hangovers, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

All of these symptoms can further impact a person’s mental health and physical well-being. In an interview for the BBC in the United Kingdom, a person with auto-brewery syndrome explained how the condition affected them before they received a diagnosis:

It was weird; I’d eat some carbs and all of a sudden I was goofy, vulgar. Every day for a year I would wake up and vomit. Sometimes it would come on over the course of a few days; sometimes it was just like ‘bam! I’m drunk’.”

Fortunately, most people can manage auto-brewery syndrome through dietary changes; by switching to foods with low carbohydrate and high protein content. A further step in treating this condition involves taking antibiotics and antifungal therapies.

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