06 July 2018

5 illnesses named after fairy tale characters

Remember when Alice in Wonderland drank the potion and shrank? Well, there’s an actual illness that affects people in a similar way. Here are five illnesses named after fairy tale characters.

Most of us grew up with fairy tale stories like Alice in Wonderland, Rapunzel and the classic Peter Pan.

But, did you know that there are actual medical conditions that are named after these beloved characters?

Here are five illnesses named after fairy tale characters. 

1. Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Although sufferers of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AIWS) don’t need to eat or drink anything to feel as though parts of their body or objects have changed in size, they do still experience the feeling. 

Characteristics: According to the Neurology Clinical Practice journal, AIWS is “characterised by distortions of visual perception, the body scheme and the experience of time”.  

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2. Sleeping Beauty Syndrome

While the idea of sleeping for an eternity might be inviting to someone who is sleep deprived, people with Sleeping Beauty Syndrome (or Kleine-Levin Syndrome) suffer from a rare neurological disorder characterised by long periods of excessive sleep.

According to the Kleine-Levin Syndrome Foundation this disorder usually affects adolescents but can also occur in young children and adults. At the start of an episode, the person becomes drowsy and will sleep for most of the day and night, usually only waking to eat or use the bathroom. An episode can last a day, a week or months. 

Characteristics: Common characteristics include excessive sleeping, altered behaviour and a reduced understanding of the world. 

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3. Peter Pan Syndrome

In the book by J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan was the boy who never grew up. This condition affects people who don’t want to feel grown up – essentially, they're an adult with the mind of a child.

Humbelina Robles Ortega, professor of the Department of Personality, Evaluation and Psychological Treatment of the University of Granada and an expert in emotional disorders, believes that overprotective parents could be the reason people develop this condition. “It usually affects dependent people who have been overprotected by their families and haven’t developed the necessary skills to confront life.” She adds that the Peter Pans of today “see the adult world as very problematic and glorify adolescence, which is why they want to stay in that state of privilege”.

Characteristics: A person with Peter Pan Syndrome may blame their failure on their parents, partner or former employer. They don't want to focus on becoming good at anything. They may cling to an impossible dream (to become a famous musician or artist, for example), sometimes using it as an excuse not to work hard enough to launch a more sustainable career.

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4. Wendy Syndrome

Dan Kiley, the same psychologist who defined Peter Pan Syndrome in 1983, used the term Wendy Syndrome to describe women who "mother" their partners or people close to them. Prof Ortega said, “Wendy is the woman behind Peter Pan. There must be someone who deals with the things Peter Pan doesn’t do in order for Peter Pan to exist.” She added that Wendy “makes every decision and takes on the responsibilities of her partner, thus justifying his unreliability. We can find Wendy people even within the immediate family: the overprotecting mothers.”

Characteristics: You may feel the need to care for others, while sacrificing your own desires, happiness or things that are important to you. Sufferers fear that people will no longer need them. 

5. Rapunzel Syndrome

In the fairytale, Rapunzel had a long, golden ponytail that she would drop from her tower. In real life, however, people who suffer from Rapunzel Syndrome eat their own hair. It’s also known as trichopagia, and over time the ingested hair turns into a giant hairball (called a trichobezoar), which needs to be surgically removed from the stomach. 

Characteristics: Symptoms usually depend on the size of the hairball and the presence of complications. Common symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, obstruction and peritonitis, while less common symptoms include weight loss and anorexia. 

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Image credit: iStock