21 Diseases the Doctors Haven’t Figured Out Yet


Medicine has come a long way since we used leeches and bleeding as treatments, but for every cure we discover, we find yet another illness that baffles the brightest minds in the medical field. Although we’ve made some progress in the identification and treatment of many ailments, doctors are still scratching their heads over these maladies.

1. Gulf War Syndrome (GWS): Not to be confused with post-traumatic stress disorder, GWS symptoms include fatigue, muscle pain, cognitive challenges, rashes, and diarrhea. This strange disorder affected over 30% of Gulf War veterans, and for many, their symptoms worsen or persist with time. Veterans of latter wars, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, are also starting to show GWS symptoms. Suggested culprits includes depleted uranium, sarin, gas, smoke from oil wells, vaccinates, and work stress. Too bad we can’t just cancel all wars until we figure this one out.

2. The Peruvian Meteorite Illness: September 2007. A large meteorite crash-lands near Carancas, Peru. Just like a movie, the impact created a scorched crater from which boiling water and noxious gas emerged. Unfortunately, also just like a movie, the villagers who checked out the impact site soon fell mysteriously ill. Despite many ongoing theories, to date, there is no scientific evidence to prove what caused the collective illness. Dare we suggest… aliens?


3. Alzheimer’s Disease: Although we know more about this form of dementia than we have in the past, there is still no cure. Alzheimer patients’ conditions deteriorate with age, leaving them confused, suffering from loss of memory, and inevitably unable to care for themselves. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take now that may prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

4. Bell’s Palsy: Continuing the tradition of naming ailments after the people who discovered them or where they took place, Bell’s palsy is named for Charles Bell, the anatomist who first described the disease. This is a form of facial paralysis that is used as a diagnosis when brain tumours, stokes, myasthenia gravis, and Lyme disease rule out other causes of paralysis. Doctors are still searching for the cause of Bell’s palsy.

5. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS): Although widely claimed by new parents, teenagers, college students, and everyone headed to work on Friday mornings, chronic fatigue syndrome is a real illness. Sufferers of CFS find themselves exhausted even when they did not exert themselves physically or mentally. Sleep and rest do not bring relief or refreshment. The lack of adequate rest leads to health problems such as sore throat, headache, diminished cognitive ability, weakness, depression, and more. Despite a plethora of research, doctors have yet to pin down a cause or a cure for CFS.

6. Cluster Headache: Headaches are no fun. A severe headache localized to one side of the head that causes eye watering, swelling, and nasal congestion is worse, but those afflicted with cluster headaches endure this pain and discomfort every time a cluster headache strikes. The search for a cause is giving doctors… well… a headache!


7. Cronkhite-Canada Syndrome: I don’t blame you for thinking this disease only affects Canadians, but despite its northern-sounding name, Cronkhite-Canada is seen mostly in Japanese men. This rare syndrome manifests as multiple polyps on the digestive tract. The cause is unknown. The fact that Canadians suffer from very cold winters, however, has been proven, confirmed, and endured for years.

8. Dancing Mania (Dancing Plague, Choreomania, St. John’s Dance, or St. Vitus’ Dance): Now this is a strange one! In Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries, groups of people that numbered up to the thousands would spontaneously break into dance and wouldn’t stop until they collapsed from sheer exhaustion. Nobody knows what caused it and why it spread. Sounds like our modern-day flash mobs… but with collapsing and death.

9. Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance (Attributed to Electromagnetic Fields): While evidence mounts against ailments caused by electromagnetic radiation, this field of study is still very poorly understood. Patients claiming to suffer from headaches, rashes, sleep disturbances, and more have been discredited in several studies. Yet evidence mounts every day that supports the theory of electromagnetic radiation posing a threat. After all, it’s only recently that we’ve been immersed in computers, laptops, cell phones, and tablets — certainly not enough time for conclusive studies to judge the effects of this type of radiation over a long period.

10. Exploding Head Syndrome (EHS): EHS is an auditory hallucination, which means it is a hallucination that you hear rather than see. It is characterised by hearing a loud noise such as an explosion, gun firing, or cymbals clashing — however, it is only heard in the head of the person affected with EHS. Sufferers sometimes feel panic or anxiety before hearing the noise, and it tends to occur just before or shortly after sleep. Thankfully, this strange illness is very rare.

11. Fibromyalgia: Unexplained pain and a heightened response to pressure are what characterize fibromyalgia, but there are virtually no clues to its cause. Right now, doctors are blaming a combination of psychological, genetic, neurobiological, and environmental factors.

12. Fields: We all want to leave our mark on the world, but Catherine and Kirstie Fields likely wish their contribution to history had been a little more lighthearted. Diagnosed with a rare genetic disease that affected their nerves and muscles, doctors named this strange condition after the twins.

13. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): If you can imagine a life of feeling like you have food poisoning every day, you have a hint at how miserable it is to live with IBS. While there is no cure, there are treatments to reduce the pain and suffering.

14. Nodding Disease: Despite its innocent-sounding name, nodding disease is fatal. It strikes children, causing a nodding seizure. Once affected, brain development is stunted and the individual becomes mentally handicapped. Nodding disease was first noted i 1960 and has only been observed in Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.

15. Sick Building Syndrome: This is one we are rapidly getting a handle on, especially since it makes so much sense. Humans do not thrive when in closed, poorly ventilated spaces. Fresh air, movement and sunlight are vital to our well-being. However, the reality for many is a long commute followed by hours of sitting indoors at work. When our work or homes have poor ventilation systems, the stagnant air and buildup of volatile organic compounds affect our health. Throw into the mix cleaning materials and poor lighting and you have sick building syndrome. Today’s eco-friendly building designs and the push for activity and fresh air during the day are doing much to address this issue.


16. Stiff Person Syndrome: Holding tight at number 16, stiff person syndrome describes the puzzling symptoms of being unnaturally ridged. This illness includes spasms so violent they can break bones. Patients can also suffer from a sensitively to sound and touch.

17. Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome: This stomach-turning condition causes the patient to vomit for hours or days. Attacks occur at the same time of day and last for a predicable length of time. Basically, the body schedules a regular time to vomit and then does so with enthusiasm. Imagine having to schedule your daily activities around that bit of unpleasantness!

18. Sweating Sickness: It’s back to 14th century Europe for this illness that caused people to sweat to death. This disease struck so swiftly, the victim could die within hours. But don’t sweat it — this illness disappeared from the historical records by the mid-1500s, leaving doctors with only a mystery and a handful of theories.

19. Tarantism: As if we needed another reason to fear spiders! Scuttling into our nightmares at number 19 is mysterious illness caused by a spider bite. How mysterious is it? It’s so cloaked in mystery that we can’t even agree on which spider causes this nasty bite. Confusing this web of weirdness is the fact that tarantism also refers to dancing mania (see number 8) although the two illnesses are not related. It is possible that tarantism refers to little more than a rogue Wikepedia entry or our collective fear of these venomous creepy crawlers.

20. Trigger finger (Trigger Thumb/Digit Stenosing Tenosynovitis): Time to pull the trigger on this condition that causes a catching, snapping, or locking of the finger’s flexor tendon. When used, the trigger finger painfully pops back, causing a great deal of pain and dysfunction. A difference in tendon sizes within the finger are to blame.

21. Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS): We are all sensitive to elements not found in our natural environment, such as smoke, plastic, artificial scents, and paint. For some, however, reaction is more severe. Unfortunately, those who appear to suffer from MCS routinely fail double-blind tests, as they don’t tend to react in the presence of chemicals under clinical trials. However, let’s not dismiss this one as IYH (in your head) syndrome quite yet. As the other 20 diseases show, sometimes there is simply no explanation for what makes us ill.

Sometimes doctors have a hard time explaining diseases, but there is something we can all understand and agree on: insurance. We don’t know what illness may strike, and if it does, how long it will last and what it will do to our health. We may be hapless victims of dancing mania, but we don’t have to be victims of our finances. Life insurance, disability insurance, and chronic illness insurance can carry us through financially when our health declines. Prevention is always the best medicine — and insurance evens the odds.

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