Imagine being able to feel what another person is feeling – their sorrow and their pain. Or be convinced that whatever negative change is happening with your friend’s life is actually yours. There are certain brain disorders that cause people to undergo such situations and feel others’ pain or happiness. While brain disorders, or any kind of disorders for that matter, are often shunned by society, it is a serious subject that needs to be talked about more often. Here, we are listing some brain disorders with bizarre symptoms that are often mistaken for psychiatric conditions.
1. Sensory Desynchronization is a brain disorder where a person hears voices before people speak.
Imagine a life where the sound and video are out of sync. A group of English researchers have recently come in contact with one such man who experiences life in exactly this way. The man, a retired pilot known as “PH”, experiences sound 200ms (1/5th of a second) before his other senses. This means that he hears things slightly before he sees them, and even hears his own voice slightly before he feels himself speak. While PH’s condition sounds strange, one might think why this doesn’t happen to us since light travels faster than sound.
When we clap our hands together, we hear the sound and see the motion in sync. This is because our brains have an internal clock which processes different signals at various rates so that everything is in sync. We see and hear things at the same time because of how our brain processes these signals together but for PH, there’s a quarter-second delay between hearing a voice and seeing someone’s mouth move. This is caused by a rare brain disorder known as Sensory Desynchronization but PH says he has learned to live with his condition. “It’s not life-threatening,” he says. “You learn to live with these things as you get older. I don’t expect my body to work perfectly”.
2. Huntington’s Disease is a rare inherited disorder that breaks down nerve cells in the brain over time, affecting a patient’s behavior and movement. There’s no cure for this brain disorder.
Huntington’s Disease is an inherited disease that causes nerve cells in the brain to progressively breakdown over time. Signs and symptoms can show up as early as in the 30’s or 40’s and can have a broad impact on a person’s functional abilities. A person suffering from HD can have trouble moving around, thinking (cognitive) and later in life, they can become psychiatric disorders. In its early stages, sufferers will experience mood swings, involuntary jerking, depression, irritability, apathy, or anger, and can become socially withdrawal with a frequent loss of energy.
One of the famous cases involves musician Woody Guthrie, who was misdiagnosed for years before doctors finally figured out that he was suffering from HD. While there are treatments available to help manage symptoms, there is no cure for HD and a sufferer’s health will eventually deteriorate due to the disorder. Over time, sufferers will exhibit unusual behavior and in some cases, can become extremely aggressive.
3. Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis is an autoimmune disease that causes the brain to swell. Sufferers will experience symptoms such as hallucinations, delusion or aggressive outbursts.
Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis is a brain disorder that was only discovered recently. The autoimmune disorder causes antibodies to attack NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate)-type glutamate receptors at central neuronal synapses and cause demented symptoms in sufferers. According to the NCBI, women are mostly affected by the disorder that causes the brain to swell. Hallucination, delusion and unpredictable outbursts are just a few of the symptoms of Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis. Some of them feel as if they are possessed by some supernatural forces and can develop seizures as the disorder makes progress.
According to Dr. Souhel Najjar, an anti-NMDA expert, the neurological symptoms are extremely subtle at the beginning and very easy to miss. Dr. Najjar believes that there are at least 90% of cases where people have been misdiagnosed, causing them to be considered mentally unstable and be admitted to psych wards. One of the famous cases involves 24-year-old Susannah Cahalan, who spent over $1 million in medical bills in search of a treatment.
Susannah Cahalan was suffering from Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis but her doctors were unaware of the condition. After years of being misdiagnosed, Cahalan approached Dr. Najjar who asked her to draw a clock. Surprisingly, she drew the clock with all numbers on the right side. When Dr. Najjar saw this, he immediately realized that Cahalan had an inflammation on the right side of her brain. She was treated and saved from falling into a coma; which most patients do and approximately 7% never wake up from.
4. Othello Syndrome causes sufferers to become delusional and accuse their partner of cheating. Patients usually have hallucinations of their spouse’s unfaithfulness and can be unpredictable.
Othello Syndrome (OS) is a neural disorder characterized by delusion of unfaithfulness or jealousy. Also known as Dangerous Passion, sufferers of OS are usually around the age of 68 and 77% have a neurological disease affecting one of the brain’s frontal lobes. According to some reports, OS is induced as a side-effect in some patients as a result of taking dopamine to help with Parkinson’s disease.
When some sufferers of Parkinson’s disease undergo treatment to boost their dopamine levels, they start having delusions of an unfaithful partner. The condition transforms a trusting relationship into a nightmare of suspicion, bitterness, and relentless accusations. One of the famous cases involves a 42-year-old man who was undergoing treatment to boost dopamine levels. During the treatments, doctors noticed that he was becoming extremely delusional, often accusing his wife of being with someone else. The man also started having a habit of staring at the driveway, waiting for an imaginary man to appear and take his wife away.
OS patients can be extremely unpredictable and their actions can sometimes be destructive since they are unable to differentiate between delusion and reality. The condition often affects men and there have been several cases where men with OS have started fights with neighbors, accusing them of trying to steal their wives.
5. Misophonia is a brain disorder that causes people to get angry at others for breathing, chewing or slurping.
Misophonia is a brain disorder that triggers over-the-top emotional reaction for specific sounds. Sounds such as chewing, slurping or simply breathing can trigger emotional or physiological responses that causes people to “go crazy”. Sufferers of misophonia can be easily annoyed, get angry or feel the need to flee upon hearing such sounds. Researchers believe that sufferers may already have issues with how their brains filter sounds that causes them to get angry at someone else for doing something normal.
People who have misophonia often feel embarrassed and don’t mention it to healthcare providers. A team of British scientists studied 20 people who suffer from misophonia and discovered that they can also be triggered by sounds such as a crying toddler, windshield wipers, screaming and rain. Using fMRI scans to measure brain activity, researchers found that upon hearing such sounds, the parts of the brain responsible for long-term memories, fear, and other emotions were activated in sufferers of misophonia. Whole-brain MRI scans also showed that people with misophonia have higher amounts of myelination, a fatty substance that wraps around nerve cells in the brain to provide electrical insulation. Treatments are available and behavioral therapy can help sufferers cope with misophonia.
6. Mirror-touch synaesthesia is a disorder that makes people feel what other people are feeling.
Mirror-touch synaesthesia is a disorder that causes people to physically ‘feel’ what others around them are feeling. Some people are born with the condition while other cases show that people have acquired it after having a stroke. The first case of this condition was reported in 2005, and there have only been a handful of other reports since then. A woman named Amanda suffers from mirror-touch synaesthesia, which causes her to feel everything that happens around her. According to Amanda, whenever she sees someone being hugged, she feels like being hugged and whenever she sees someone getting hurt, she goes through the same physical pain. In an episode of the NPR show, Amanda explained that she also has trouble seeing other people eat since it causes her to feel like they’re forcing her to eat.
7. Capgras delusion causes people to think that a loved one has been replaced by imposters, robots or aliens.
Capgras delusion or Capgras syndrome can occur in patients with paranoid schizophrenia, but has also been seen in patients with a brain injury or dementia. It is also more common in women than men (by a ratio of 3:2). Sufferers think that their loved ones have been substituted by imposters, robots or aliens, thus losing trust and become socially withdrawn. One of the famous cases took place in 2015, where a 36-year-old woman started having delusions shortly after giving birth.
The woman developed the delusion that her son and other family members had been replaced by imposters. Her condition went on for five years and no treatments proved effective. However, when doctors tried electroconvulsive therapy (in which electrical shocks are passed through the brain to induce a seizure), her condition subsided. Two weeks later, her mood changed and doctors were able to release her.
8. Alien hand syndrome causes people to think that their hand doesn’t belong to them.
Alien hand syndrome is an unusual condition where a sufferer believes that one of their arms doesn’t belong to them. Some even claim the arm to have a mind of its own and perform things that cannot be controlled by the person. An 82-year-old woman suffered a stroke and after recovering, she started reporting that one of her arms didn’t belong to her. The unidentified woman was convinced that it was in fact her brother’s arm who had been with her as she suffered the stroke. She also claimed that her arm was uncontrollable, doing things which she had no control over.
This is in fact due to alien hand syndrome, a rare neurological disorder where a person’s limb moves without their control. Sometimes, their hands might reach for objects without the patients notice and they will have to restrain it using their other hand. Doctors have only seen around four dozen cases of alien hand syndrome and believe that it is caused when the connections between the brain’s two hemispheres are severed. It can also be caused due to a brain injury or stroke.
9. Aphantasia is a condition where a person cannot picture things in their head.
When someone says “apple”, we can immediately picture an apple in our heads. However, people suffering from aphantasia lose the ability to picture things. The rare disorder commonly affects older people, making it hard for them to visualize everything. A 65-year-old man called MX suddenly lost the ability to visualize things in his mind. When researchers showed him images of objects, he was able to recognize all of the subjects but when asked to think about it, he was unable. Only around two dozen people are known to have this condition, making it a relatively new phenomenon. Researchers dubbed it ‘aphantasia’, from the Greek word for imagination.
10. Jerusalem syndrome is a well-documented phenomenon where foreign visitors suffer delusions that they are figures from the Bible, after visiting Jerusalem.
Tourists visiting Jerusalem have been known to develop delusions. According to Israel’s health ministry, around 50 cases are reported each year, forcing the country to have mental health professionals and police at hand. Between 1980 and 1993, more than 1,200 cases were reported where people exhibited delusions and ideas that they are figures from the Bible. Studies however, show that most of the sufferers had mental health problems in their own countries before visiting Jerusalem.