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3 medical conditions named after fairytale stories

3 medical conditions named after fairytale stories

As children, some of us enjoyed reading fairytale stories as it lets us explore and learn from their lessons. Fascinated with the ideas of kingdoms, princesses, evil witches, and other mythical beings.

However, did you know that some of these stories have eponymous syndromes and conditions? Let’s find out!

The condition of unpredictable slumber

Have you ever heard the story of Sleeping Beauty? The protagonist who pricked her fingers in a spinning wheel and then fell into sleep due to the witch’s curse?

That also happens to one in a million people diagnosed with Kleine-Levin syndrome (KLS)

3 medical conditions named after fairytale stories
Main character Princess Aurora fell into the enchanted slumber | Photo courtesy: Youtube | Disney Music VEVO

Dubbed as the “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome,” it’s a rare sleeping disorder that is unlike in the story, the cause is yet to be identified.

Main symptoms include recurring episodes of prolonged sleep (hypersomnia), compulsive excessive eating (hyperphagia), and compulsive sexual behavior (hypersexuality).

Far from the fairytale, patients diagnosed with KLS experience challenging reality. Due to overwhelming tiredness, they tend to be “feeling drawn towards the bed.”

An average of 12 to 24 hours a day occur during episodes.  It’s a condition dealing with unpredictability, severity, and duration. 

According to Standford Health Care, to date, there is “no specific, definitive” cure or treatment for the syndrome. However, there are medications to manage some of its aspects and symptoms. Some doctors use lithium and carbamazepine to shorten or prevent the episodes.

Trapped in tangled ‘tail-es’

Captived in a secluded tower, Rapunzel laid down her incredibly long blonde hair for the prince to climb up and help to save her. Her long tresses and the story’s “uncommonness” are the reasons why the Brother Grimms’ folktale was named after a rare intestinal conditionRapunzel syndrome.

Illustrations to Brother Grimms’ version of Rapunzel by Walter Crane (left) and Arthur Rackham (right) | Photo courtesy: Parbake & Prose; Wikimedia Commons | Arthur Rackham

Experts associate this with psychiatric disorders — trichotillomania (habit of hair-pulling) and trichophagia (habit of chewing of hair). Consequently, it forms undigested hair fibers or trichobezoars. Patients present symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain. These are according to the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM)

Fortunately, there are kinds of treatment possible. A surgical procedure called laparotomy is a treatment of choice to further diagnose the disease. But in order to prevent its recurrence, experts recommend neuropsychiatric assessment and therapy.

In a 2021 news report, over six pounds of hair have been removed from the stomach of an 11-year-old girl. Studies show that this condition is predominant in young women.

False perceptions through the looking glass

In Lewis Carroll’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the character Alice experienced drastic changes in her body. After drinking from a bottle, she shrank to a height of 10 inches. Then, she grew unnaturally tall and large after eating a cake.

3 medical conditions named after fairytale stories
Illustration from1856 children’s novel | Photo courtesy: BBC via Alamy

In 1955, English psychiatrist Dr. John Todd used this folktale to coin Alice in Wonderland syndrome (AIWS) in his paper. Cited by NML, he described it as having “illusions of body image or distortion external surroundings of patients with migraine or epilepsy.” 

According to Healthline, this rare neurological condition can affect multiple senses: vision, touch, and hearing. Similar to Alice, patients with AIWS could feel sensations of shrinking or enlarging.

In an article from Insider, Alice Johnston shared her experiences as a child that match the symptoms of AIWS.

Often as a child, I’d be lying in bed at night when everything around me would suddenly shrink and appear far away and tiny. 

Just like KLS, AIWS has no current treatment and still needs further research. However, reported cases show that the symptoms are sufficiently unharmful.

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