Unsolved Medical Mysteries That Still Stump Doctors

The girl who never aged

Brooke Greenberg died at the young age of 20 in 2013. But she didn’t look like your average 20-year-old because her body stopped developing at the age of five. Her hair and nails were the only parts of her body that continued to grow year by year. Despite being born premature, doctors remained perplexed as to why she stopped aging.

Numerous DNA studies showed no abnormalities in her genes associated with aging. Nor did her parents have a history of abnormal development. Plus, all her sisters were normal and healthy. Scientists continued to refer to her condition as Syndrome X, a metabolic syndrome. Yet, her unusual condition remains unexplained by science.

Foreign accent syndrome

If you wake up talking with a strong Jamaican accent, despite the fact that you’ve never even heard a Jamaican accent before, then the chances are you’re suffering from foreign accent syndrome.

The best known case of this syndrome dates from 1941, when a Norwegian woman was ostracised after she was injured during an air raid and began talking with a strong German accent.

This syndrome was once regarded as a psychological disorder, but it’s now thought to be a neurological one, which comes about when a stroke or injury damages the part of the brain associated with speech.

Highly superior autobiographical memory

If you give Jill Price a date, she can easily tell you what day of the week it fell on and what she did that day. Price was reported as the first known case of highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM) in 2006. Since then, more adults and even children have been identified as having this ability. 

People with HSAM can recall almost anything from their memories in minute detail from events in their life to conversations they’ve had. The true mystery is why some people have this superhuman brainpower and others don’t. Brain images of people with HSAM have shown researchers that some parts of their brain structure are different from people who have a typical memory. But it’s not yet known if these brain differences cause HSAM or if they occur because the person uses areas of the brain associated with memory more.

The boy who doesn’t feel hungry

In October 2013, Landon Jones, a 12-year-old boy from Iowa, suddenly woke up without an appetite or thirst. It only took a year for the boy to go from a healthy 104 pounds to a meager 68 pounds. 

Doctors were baffled by his condition after countless brain scans, psychiatric evaluations, and medical evaluations for digestive problems or eating disorders showed nothing. 

Some doctors wonder if he suffers from a rare brain dysfunction, particularly in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls hunger and thirst. In 2014, his parents reached out to the National Institutes of Health to help evaluate Landon and possibly treat him for this rare disease. But there’s been no news to-date to say if doctors have determined a diagnosis. 

Water allergy

This may sound impossible – considering that our bodies are around 60% water – but some rare individuals are allergic to water.

They can still drink the stuff, of course. It’s washing that causes the problem. A few minutes in the bath or shower causes their skin to erupt in itchy red weals.

This rare condition (known, medically as aquagenic urticaria), was first described in 1964.

Its cause is still a mystery: it could be due to a toxic response when water touches the skin, or to an extreme sensitivity to ions in the water.

The madness of King George

The British King, George III, suffered major bouts of mental derangement, for which he had to be restrained in a straitjacket or tied to a chair.

Scientists thought they knew the cause of these ravings: a genetic defect called porphyria. But in 2005 researchers examining a sample of King George’s hair made a surprise discovery: high concentrations of arsenic.

The researchers believe that the medicine given to the King was contaminated with arsenic – making his predisposition to porphyria far worse.

Tree man

With hands and feet resembling branches, Dede, a man from West Java, Indonesia, appears to be half tree, half man.

But what is the cause of this deformation? Thankfully for Dede, this mystery may recently have been solved.

The culprit appears to be a rare immune deficiency, which allows the human papilloma virus – better known as the cause of warts – to rampage out of control.