The Weirdest Medical Cases of 2022

The Weirdest Medical Cases of 2022

A man allergic to orgasms, a vitamin D overdose, and, of course, an unusual rectal insertion are some of the strangest medical tales reported this year.

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A woman looking at a functional magnetic resonance image (fMRI).
A woman looking at a functional magnetic resonance image (fMRI).
Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP (Getty Images)

2022 is on its last legs, and that means it’s time to embark on yet another journey through the bizarre.

Doctors regularly document the unique patients they come across in the form of case reports published in medical journals. These reports are sometimes the first step to a scientific discovery, or they may simply impart an important lesson to others in the field. But often, the clearest takeaway is that our bodies can get sick or malfunction in really baffling ways. Here are some of the weirdest case studies to have popped up in the medical literature or media this year.

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The D Stands for Vomiting

The D Stands for Vomiting

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Nutritional supplements can be useful for people with documented deficiencies and certain health conditions, such as pregnancy. But for the average person, supplements haven’t been shown to have much benefit. And rarely, they can have downright dangerous side effects.

In July, UK doctors documented the case of a man who severely overdosed on vitamin D supplements, causing him to develop symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, tinnitus, and incessant vomiting for nearly three months; the man also lost 30 pounds in that time. He ended up in the hospital for 8 days, where he was given treatment to reduce his high calcium levels (another side effect of the supplements). Two months later, his calcium supply had returned to near normal, though he still had high amounts of vitamin D in his system.

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The Most Embarrassing Lung Injury Ever

The Most Embarrassing Lung Injury Ever

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Masturbation might not make you go blind but, apparently, it can tear a hole in your lungs. In April, doctors from Switzerland reported on a 20-year-old man who visited the emergency room with stabbing chest pain, trouble breathing, and a swollen face—symptoms that began while he was masturbating. Chest scans revealed that he had developed pneumomediastinum, a rare condition that can be caused by a tear in certain lung membranes that allows air to leak out.

Pneumomediastinum has been known to be caused by vigorous activity during sex, but as far as the doctors could tell, this was the first reported instance of masturbation being the culprit. Fortunately, the condition usually isn’t serious and often clears up on its own. And though the man was sent to the ICU for an overnight stay, his symptoms went away within four days.

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A DIY Erectile Dysfunction Treatment Gone Horribly Wrong

A DIY Erectile Dysfunction Treatment Gone Horribly Wrong

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Some home remedies should never be attempted. Doctors reported on a man and his partner who tried to improve his erectile dysfunction by inserting a straw attached to a can of weatherproofing spray into his urethra. Tragically, the partner then—inadvertently, according to the doctors—pressed the button on the spray, injecting enough insulation foam into the man’s penis to reach his bladder. Somehow, the man managed to live with the injury for three weeks before he sought emergency treatment, by which point he was regularly urinating blood.

Unfortunately, the foam was so firmly embedded that doctors had to perform extensive surgery to fish it out of his penis. And though the surgery was successful, the man still hadn’t received additional operations to repair his urethra at the time of the doctors’ report.

The case study was actually published in late 2021 but only received media attention in January this year.

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Cancer Hiccups

Cancer Hiccups

A woman looking at a functional magnetic resonance image (fMRI).
A woman looking at a functional magnetic resonance image (fMRI).
Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP (Getty Images)

Hiccups are an annoying and universal part of life. Most of the time, they’re a short-lasting and completely benign. But every once in a while, they can be a sign of a much deeper problem. In March, doctors in India reported that their patient’s chronic hiccups—which had gone on for months by the time he saw them—were actually likely caused by an aggressive brain tumor. Following radiation therapy and surgery, the man’s hiccups subsided.

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Paralysis by Whippits

Paralysis by Whippits

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Nitrous oxide is a valuable medical treatment with many uses, including as a mild inhaled sedative. It can also be used for its euphoric effects as a recreational drug, commonly referred to as “whippits” (a reference to the whipped cream canisters it’s usually inhaled through). But this recreational use can sometimes lead to serious complications.

In September, doctors from New York and Massachusetts reported on a man who developed a rare neurological condition brought on by inhaling whippits. The nitrous oxide depleted his body’s supply of vitamin B12, triggering the condition. By the time he saw emergency room doctors, he had lost the use of his legs. Thankfully, the doctors intervened before more permanent damage was done. Following treatment with vitamin B12 shots and the patient choosing to stop using whippits, he was able to walk under his power again four weeks later.

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The Man Allergic to Orgasms

The Man Allergic to Orgasms

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Earlier this year, doctors reported on a man who developed an allergy-like reaction to his own orgasms. He would experience symptoms similar to hay fever after ejacuating, such as fatigue, itchy eyes, stuffy or runny nose, and hives along his forearms. The condition, known as postorgasmic illness syndrome, began in the man’s late teens and had driven him to avoid sexual and romantic relationships.

Little is known about postorgasmic illness syndrome. But in at least some cases, it’s suspected to be caused by an overactive immune reaction to something in semen. The doctors in this case theorized that they might be able to help the man by treating him with a long-acting antihistamine, which is often used to manage other types of allergy. Fortunately, they were right, and the man was able to enjoy having orgasms with significantly reduced symptoms.

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Caterpillar Rash

Caterpillar Rash

A spongy moth caterpillar.
A spongy moth caterpillar.
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A man’s presumed case of eczema turned out to be a much hairier situation.

In June, doctors in China reported that their patient had come with them with a rash along his wrist, previously diagnosed as eczema. When they looked at his skin underneath a microscope, though, they found distinct hollow structures with “refractory golden walls” embedded inside. They concluded that these structures were actually a caterpillar’s setae, or the hair-like bristles found along the outside of many species—specifically from a spongy moth caterpillar. The man had likely picked up the hairs while climbing a wax apple tree five months earlier, which then caused inflamed lesions to form around them.

Once he got steroid treatment, the lesions and his symptoms went away.

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A Water Bottle Bottled Where It Shouldn’t Be

A Water Bottle Bottled Where It Shouldn’t Be

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It’s not a proper list of weird medical tales without someone getting something stuck in their butt, and this year is no exception.

In July, doctors in India detailed a case in which a 50-year-old man had inserted a water bottle into his rectum. The bottle, which apparently contained 250 milliliters of water, was stuck up there for three days before his wife brought him to the emergency room, during which time the man developed abdominal pain and was unable to defecate. “Because of his embarrassment and fear of his wife,” the doctors wrote, the man did not disclose what had happened. And it was only after he got an ultrasound that they finally found the culprit.

The doctors were able to safely remove the bottle without causing serious complications like bleeding, and after five days in the hospital, he was released in good condition, along with a referral to a psychiatric clinic—a common practice for these cases.

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