Literature has such an impact in our lives that there are even medical conditions whose names were inspired by some of the classics.
When it comes to medical terms, it’s not hard to find a whole list of conditions, diseases, and syndromes named after doctors and scientists who carried out research in order to discover them. Other names, however, simply derive from etymological terms. And others are the result of medicine drawing inspiration from sources like literature itself.
Below, there is a list of conditions that are so rare you would think they only exist in fiction. But they don’t. From children’s classics to short stories, these eight medical conditions prove there’s always a little bit of fiction in real life.
Alice in Wonderland Syndrome
Do you remember how Wonderland is full of strange edibles that can make you change size? Well, Alice in Wonderland Syndrome makes you perceive things around you with a different size, all at the same time. For example, something that seems perfectly normal, say, a door, could shrink or become gigantic all of a sudden right before your eyes.
AWS is a neurological condition that, in most cases, is related to migraine, but it can also be derived from brain tumors, viruses like Epstein Barr, or even epilepsy. This syndrome presents itself more frequently in children and, in some cases, they grow out of it. As a matter of fact, some people have speculated that Lewis Carroll, known to suffer from severe migraines, could’ve had AWS, drawing inspiration from his own condition to write his classic books.
The Mad Hatter Syndrome
The Mad Hatter Syndrome is another condition that comes from the Alice books. It was highly common in the nineteenth century among, well, hatters. Back in the day, hatters were in constant contact with mercury, inhaling high quantities of this toxic material. It was a common thing to see hatters “losing their minds,” and Carroll ended up capturing this in his books.
However, though Carroll didn’t precisely name the condition, later on, his iconic character gave mercury intoxication its popular name. Some of the symptoms present in Mad Hatter Syndrome are hallucinations, weakness, anxiety, and memory loss. Nowadays, it's very rare to find cases of mercury intoxication since the use of it has been highly regulated since last century. Still, the name stuck, and mercury intoxication is now colloquially known as Mad Hatter Syndrome.
Rip Van Winkle Syndrome
Actually known as Kleine-Levin Syndrome, this highly rare sleep disorder affects mainly men during adolescence. This type of hypersomnolence makes individuals experience episodes of prolonged sleep, hyperphagia (excessive appetite), and in some cases, intense libido.
Its colloquial name comes from Washington Irving’s short story of the same name, Rip Van Winkle. It’s the story of a Dutch-American man who, one day, while walking in the mountains with his dog, encounters a group of men who offer him a strange liquor. He wakes up to find out he’s been sleeping for at least 20 years and that he missed the entire American Revolution.
Lady Windermere Syndrome
This syndrome gets its name from Oscar Wilde’s play Lady Windermere’s Fan about an aristocratic woman who believes her husband is cheating on her, but the relationship isn’t that clear. LWS is a mycobacterial lung disease that affects certain animals and people whose immune system is compromised (mainly, HIV patients). The connection between the main character and the syndrome with its name is a mystery.
Some people believe the name originated from the speculation that Lady Windermere could’ve had this condition, while it’s really unlikely. Others presume the connection comes from the type of character she is: she’s a meticulous, persistent, and difficult woman, and the symptoms of the disease can be just as persistent and invasive, but then again, there’s no right answer other than that the name is frequently used in medical circles.
Charles Dickens is praised for his meticulously detailed descriptions, to the point that there are some medical conditions perfectly described before they were even named or studied. That’s the case of Pickwickian Syndrome, named after the character of his first novel, The Pickwick Papers.
This syndrome is officially known as Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome, and what happens is that individuals are unable to get enough oxygen into the system, this increases the levels of carbon dioxide in the blood causing daytime sleepiness, intense headaches, shortness of breath, lethargy, and depression. If untreated, it can even lead to heart failure, sexual dysfunction, hypertension, and even death.
We’ve all heard about Munchausen Syndrome. It’s a condition where people lie about having certain conditions and symptoms either to get away with something or to make others feel bad for them. Contrary to hypochondriacs, who actually believe they’re sick, people with Munchausen know they’re lying but can’t control their compulsive behavior.
Well, this commonly known syndrome gets its name from a real historical character, Carl Friedrich von Münchhausen, a German officer whose achievements were highly exaggerated in an eighteenth-century book called The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen by Rudolf Erich Raspe. When the text was translated into German, he became known as the “Baron of Lies.”
These are just a few conditions with names inspired by literary characters, but if you dive into psychological manuals, you’ll find a great number of mental conditions named after some of the most important literary classics.
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