From the story of a man whose seizures were triggered by doing Sudoku puzzles to the report of a woman who suffered a painful reaction to a snake bite a whopping 50 years after she was bitten, the medical literature is full of unusual cases.
What can physicians learn from a single patient’s case? There are many reasons doctors publish case reports: A patient may demonstrate an unusual connection between a symptom and a disease (such as the 10-year-old boy whose earache was due an intestinal problem), or a case may lead to a better understanding of a common condition by highlighting a rare symptom that the condition can cause. (This was true, for example, in the case of man who had a stroke and started giving away all of his money to strangers.)
Some cases may bring attention to an emerging problem that could become increasingly common as societal trends change (for example, a newly popular weight-loss supplement leading to liver damage).
Case reports are often meant to help other doctors avoid a misdiagnosis or offer better treatments for their patients. But for people who aren’t health care providers, the cases also make for interesting reading. Over the years, Live Science has covered a great many of these reports, often because we find some intriguing science at the heart of the case or because the case illuminates a rarely seen corner of medicine. And sometimes, we just found the case so interesting or odd that we had to tell you about it.
Here on this page, we’ve rounded up the gripping tales, thought-provoking findings and sometimes just-plain strange cases we’ve written about.
Cases with parasites and other creepy crawlies:
A man in India felt much better after surgeons removed a “fairly long live worm” that was swimming around in his eye.
A severely itchy ear might be a sign that mites have taken up living in there.
But severe ear pain, with blood, might be the work of a fruit fly larva.
Eating raw meat is a bad idea, as this 20-foot-long (6.1 meters) tapeworm that was removed from a man’s intestine showed.
The Schistosoma parasite is common in many parts of the world. But developing a “calcified bladder” as the result of such an infection is not so common.
A fuzzy little caterpillar may look harmless, but if it crawls on your skin and you’re allergic to it, you may be in store for stinging pain and hives.
Here’s what happened when, after years of failing to find help for his painful ulcerative colitis, a man tried swallowing 1,500 parasitic worm eggs.
Sunburn or a little dehydration can be problems after a day at the beach, but so can tiny fish jaws stuck in your eye.
Any organ transplant comes with a risk of rejection, but here’s what happens when a transplanted organ brings parasites along with it.
Yes, it does hurt when parasitic worms burrow into the walls of your stomach.
Cases with unusual effects on the brain:
After surviving being trapped in an avalanche, a young man suffered from seizures, but only when he did Sudoku puzzles.
Painting became impossible for an artist who broke his right arm. Then he learned to paint with his left hand, and he could do it just as well as he had with his right, despite his Parkinson’s disease. This left his doctors mystified.
Hearing a little pop during Pilates class might be a sign that your brain fluid is going to start leaking out.
In some rare cases, brain tumors can develop teeth.
People who suffer strokes have been known to experience a variety of psychological or behavioral changes. But the case of a man who developed “pathological generosity” gave researchers new insights into where altruism lives in the brain.
Cases with food or drinks as the source of the problem:
When a heart attack struck a healthy 26-year-old, his doctors linked the event to his daily habit of consuming energy drinks.
Eating ice pops can lead you to test positive for a fungal infection.
A teen girl developed hepatitis after drinking several cups of green tea daily, for months.
A man who ate raw meat was discovered to have a 20-foot-long tapeworm in his intestines. It likely lived inside him for years before causing problems.
For one 31-year-old woman, heart problems might have had something to do with her habit of drinking soda — and only soda — for about half her life.
Soy sauce is best consumed in moderation, discovered a man who fell into a coma for a few days after drinking a quart (0.9 liters) of the condiment on a dare.
Cravings for certain foods can be common during pregnancy, but watch out when a craving for baking soda strikes.
A 37-year old woman developed severe psychosis after eating gluten. One doctor said the difference between her typical personality and her behavior after she ate gluten was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
A woman’s sushi came with an unwanted side: a serving of parasitic worms that burrowed into the walls of her stomach.
Cases of people who tried alternative medical remedies:
Acupuncture is usually safe, but not always.
One healthy 35-year-old woman took a common weight-loss supplement and had to get a liver transplant.
Statins,which are among the most commonly prescribed drugs,may cause problems if you take them with cinnamon supplements.
A man who was taking a natural supplement to help him quit smoking developed an itchy rash over his face, torso, abdomen and scalp.
A woman who was taking a weight-loss supplement and an antidepressant at the same time developed a condition called “serotonin toxicity.”
Cases that affected people’s mental health:
A woman developed “hyper empathy” after having brain surgery to stop her seizures.
An older man with an unusual condition thought a stranger was living in his house: He no longer recognized the man in the mirror.
In the digital age, having the mental health disorder of hoarding doesn’t always mean hoarding physical objects.
It’s well-known that symptoms of depression can strike seasonally, in people with seasonal affective disorder. But for one woman, it was obsessive-compulsive disorder that seemed to return each winter.
A woman hallucinated that she heard songs that she did not consciously remember, throwing another mystery into the field of how memory works.
One Ph.D. student’s psychosis — which led to repeated hospitalizations and even to her being jailed — turned out to be an incredibly rare complication of celiac disease.
Cases in which an X-ray helped to solve a mystery:
A woman was told that she was obese, until an X-ray showed the real problem.
That earring that went missing on New Year’s Eve? Here’s where it went.
Kids put a lot of strange things in their mouths, and sometimes this means they need surgery.
When doctors looked at one X-ray, they thought they saw a hairpin in a little girl’s windpipe. But surgery revealed a much more dangerous object.
In one unusual case, doctors didn’t figure out what caused a woman’s stroke until an X-ray revealed an object stuck in her chest.
Hiccups that just won’t stop are usually caused by an infection, or are a side effect of medication. But for one man, something else turned out to be the culprit.
When experienced neurosurgeons refer to a problem they see on an X-ray of your brain as “mega giant,” you know it’s serious.
A bite from a venomous snake doesn’t always cause an immediate reaction; in fact, one X-ray showed how such a bite can lead to trouble decades later.
One woman’s painful chest spasms were a mystery until an X-ray showed an important organ curling up like a twisty slide on a playground.
Eight days after a man’s dentures went missing, an X-ray revealed where they went.
One X-ray showed why blow darts and kids are not a healthy mix.
Unusual features on people’s skin:
One woman’s skin lesions were a textbook example of the skin problems that can signal a very rare genetic condition.
An unusual problem known as “baboon syndrome” is a rare side effect of taking a very common antibiotic: penicillin.
A strange smell that one man thought was coming from his armpits was actually coming from bacteria living on his armpit hair.
What looked like a splinter underneath a man’s fingernail turned out to be something totally different.
One little girl’s case showed why pediatricians know that if there is a marking on the skin of a child’s lower back, they need to investigate.
The case of a man who had skin problems from taking a popular supplement called kava kava showed why patients should tell their doctors if they are taking herbal medicines.
Caterpillars may look cute, fuzzy and pretty harmless. But they’re not harmless if you’re allergic to them and one decides to saunter across your skin.
Cases with rare gastrointestinal issues:
A man who had a seizure in his sleep wound up finding his dentures, eight days later, in an upper part of his gastrointestinal tract.
It can really hurt when an organ that is usually a more-or-less straight tube twists up like a corkscrew.
Having your intestines teeming with parasitic worms might sound like a bad thing, but that’s not always the case.
One young boy suffered from hearing problems and ear pain for years before doctors realized the problem was in his gut.
Passing gas might not be attractive to most people. But one man’s case proved people find a wide range of things hot.
Cases of problems from drugs or alcohol:
Marijuana has a reputation as being a pretty harmless drug. But a pair of reports suggested the drug can cause deadly heart problems.
Another report suggested that marijuana caused a heart attack in a healthy 21-year-old.
The so-called “synthetic marijuana,” which is not really marijuana at all, but rather is made of synthetic compounds, may cause a whole range of strange behaviors.
Cocaine that’s been contaminated with other things can cause unusual skin problems.
Huffing on air dusters can lead to frostbite.
In the case of one infant girl, thought to have been stung by a scorpion, methamphetamines turned out to be the true culprit.
Teens who’ve used synthetic marijuana can develop a whole range of side effects, cases show.
Unhealthy uses of personal technology:
Turns out, too much “Candy Crush” can hurt you.
Playing video games for too long could lead to blood clots that must be treated, or else there may be deadly consequences.
The tiny disk batteries found in some gadgets can be a problem if children get ahold of them.
Cases with unusual vision or eye problems:
Children should not be allowed to play with “toy” lasers, concluded the doctors who treated a bus driver who had a permanently damaged retina.
Worms can take up residence in many places in your body, including within your eyes.
What seems like a harmless mosquito bite can lead to permanent vision loss if the insect is carrying a certain virus.
A young man who worked in a lab found what can happen if you’re exposed to too much thallium.
A lesser-known complication of weight-loss surgery is that it can cause vision problems.
Too many handstand push-ups can lead to an eye injury that takes months to heal.
Not only is a tumor of the eyeball a possibility, but such tumors can also develop hair.
Airbags can explode with such force that their fabric can leave an imprint on the eyes.
A electrician who was injured on the job developed a cataract that had a rather unusual shape: a star.
Swimming is fun, especially on vacation — but not if you get tiny fish jaws stuck in your eyes.
One seasoned surfer found a way to treat his own eye problem.
Cases of kids swallowing weird things:
After a child swallows an object, it can wind up in weird places in the body, as the case of this bobby pin showed.
Doctors had a “lightbulb moment” when they realized what was causing this infant’s cough.
Letting children or teens use a blowgun is not a great idea, one ER doctor concluded after seeing a few cases.
Here’s why the tiny batteries found in many tech devices can be hazardous to kids.
Cases of animal bites:
A woman developed a rare infection, which formed nodules throughout her body, and she probably got it from one of her pets.
An unusual effect of a venomous snakebite: One man lost his sense of smell, for more than a year.
Rat-bite fever has been plaguing people since ancient times. One teen got it from her pet rat.
For one man, getting bitten by his pet tarantula was painless. But he wound up in the ER 15 hours later, with severe cramps and hot flashes.
One woman developed an unusual reaction to a venomous snakebite — 50 years after she was bitten.
Cases of uncommon cancers or tumors:
For one woman, a treatment for cancer involving “immunotherapy” made her tumor disappear so fast that it left a hole in her chest.
Hiccups that just won’t go away can be a sign of a tumor.
The artistry of a tattoo may conceal skin cancer lurking within.
But skin isn’t the only place you can get melanoma; this cancer can also develop in the gums.
Cases involving pregnancy:
In a very unusual case, a baby was born pregnant with her own siblings.
Food cravings are common during pregnancy, but one woman’s cravings for an unusual item signaled a heart problem.
Cases of unusual infections:
A woman tested positive for a serious fungal infection, but wasn’t actually sick. Her test results stemmed from eating a common treat.
A single scratch from a pet cat was all it took for one woman to develop a life-threatening liver infection.
One teen’s pet rat spread a bacterial infection called rat-bite fever.
A woman in West Africa who caught Ebola also had a stroke; amazingly, she survived both.
In an unusual complication of an infection that is common in some parts of the world, a man’s bladder became painfully encased in calcium.
Although it’s very rare, it is possible to get HIV from manicure instruments.
Vision problems may be an underreported effect of the mosquito-transmitted chikungunya virus, according to one woman’s case.
Can symptoms of a herpes infection show up on your pinky finger? Yes, they can.
A 9-year-old boy in Florida who needed a blood transfusion wound up with a rare tick-borne disease.
Almost any part of the body can become infected, including armpit hair.
A man in the United Kingdom experienced a very rare complication of the polio vaccine, which he’d received as a kid: He never cleared the virus from his body.
The bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease usually spread by water, but it turns out the germs can spread directly from one person to another.
How easily does the measles spread? You can get it while changing gates at an airport.
Unusual cases of heart disease:
Sometimes, the only symptom of a serious cardiovascular condition is a vision problem, one case showed.
Marijuana has a reputation as a relatively harmless drug, but a report linking the substance to two deaths from heart problems showed otherwise.
Marijuana may even be what caused a heart attack in an otherwise healthy 21-year-old.
One woman’s stroke was found to have been caused by a needle that had become stuck in her heart.
A young woman’s “hysteria” turned out to be not a symptom of a mental health issue, but rather a sign of a heart condition.
A rare heart condition called commotio cordis can be deadly, even in a healthy young adult.
Cases where someone got hurt doing exercise:
Two men, identical twins, suffered heatstroke at the exact same point while running a marathon, despite it being a cool day.
Yoga might look like a relatively gentle form of exercise, but watch out for that Marichyasana posture.
A woman’s persistent headaches had a strange culprit: A Pilates class caused her brain fluid to leak.
An intense session of handstand push-ups caused one man to temporarily lose his vision.
Surfing the giant waves in Hawaii’s famous Waimea Bay is not only great fun, but also apparently one option for treating an unusual eye condition.
Cases involving people’s sexual or reproductive health:
A 55-year-old woman in the Netherlands visited the doctor and made an unusual complaint: She experienced unwanted orgasms that started in her foot.
In an unusual problem linked to a tattoo, a 21-year-old man in Iran developed a permanent semi-erection after getting a tattoo on his penis.
A young woman who was having abdominal pain was repeatedly told that her symptoms were due to her obesity. However, she later learned the real reason for her symptoms was a cyst.
A woman who was taking a drug to treat her Parkinson’s disease began experiencing unwanted, spontaneous orgasms.
Cases where medical care caused more problems:
A boy who needed a blood transfusion wound up with food allergies that he’d never had before.
Another boy got a blood transfusion, which gave him a rare infection usually carried by ticks.
A healthy 29-year-old guy who started having fainting episodes had an unusual culprit to blame: his hair-loss medicine.
After undergoing weight-loss surgery, one woman lost more than just weight. She also lost some of her vision.
A woman who was taking a drug to treat her Parkinson’s disease began experiencing unwanted, spontaneous orgasms.
A man who was taking antibiotics for a tonsil infection developed an unusual condition called “baboon syndrome.”
A man in Missouri was diagnosed with “serotonin syndrome,” because the condition is a known side effect of a medicine he was taking. But he turned out to have a much more serious disease: rabies.
Doctors in Poland gave probiotics to a newborn who was thought to have an infection. But the probiotics wound up causing more problems.
Three people who received organ transplants from the same donor all developed serious brain problems shortly after their operations, due to a parasite.
A woman who was taking a drug for leg cramps wound up sleepwalking, and overdosing on the medicine while she was sleepwalking.
A woman had oral surgery to place a dental implant for a missing tooth; she started having other problems two years later, when the implant migrated to a strange place.