Top Ten Most Disfiguring Diseases

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Posted on January 7th, 2008


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Of the many wise words that have been floated around, the saying “you cannot judge a book by its cover” is probably one that has resounded loudly through time. The edict urges people to delve deeper, go beyond the facade and really see the beauty (or ugliness) in each other.


This does not mean that looks don’t have an effect on how people treat each other. In fact, many still contend that a person’s general appearance is still significant in many social situations.


Likewise, what constitutes beauty (or ugliness) is very much dictated by consensus. What is considered to be beautiful (or ugly) is as much a social construct as identity, gender and power.


With this top ten list of the most disfiguring diseases, it’s best to think of the basis people use to measure disfigurement. If a person is said to have a mangled face, what does a non-mangled face look like?


10. Lupus


Systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE is the technical name for lupus. Falling under the category of chronic autoimmune disorders, the disease involves the body turning on itself. The immune system, originally meant to defend the body from external pathogens, suddenly attacks the body’s tissue and cells. The turnaround causes inflammation that is then observed as boils and lesions found throughout a person’s face and body. Though lupus can lead to fatality, scientific breakthroughs have enabled doctors to easily diagnose and treat the disease.


9. Phossy Jaw


Phossy Jaw
A man with Phossy Jaw
Phossy jaw, or rather phosphorus necrosis of the jaw, is a condition that hasn’t been observed since the early 1900s. Caused by excessive exposure to white phosphorus, phossy jaw was very common in workers in the match industry. Here, the jaws of the workers would begin to abscess, emit foul odors, and eventually rot away. This is particularly painful, much like having every tooth in your mouth aching. The only real treatment was to have the affected part of the jaw surgically removed. Thankfully, worker disdain for the occupational hazard pushed the match industry to shun usage of white phosphorus altogether.


8. Hypertrichosis


A man suffering from Hypertrichosis
There is some historical basis for the belief in people turning into animals such as wolves. Aside from entire tribes dressing up in animal skins while going to battle, the genesis of the concept of a werewolf can be traced back to sufferers of a condition called hypertrichosis.


Passed on only through genetics, hypertrichosis is a condition in which body hair grows at such intensity and rate that the patient looks as if he or she has fur. People with hypertrichosis often have faces covered in hair. Because those afflicted look like animals, they are often considered freaks of nature and veritable circus acts. However, aside from their fur-like body hair, they are normal everyday people.


7. Acromelagy


A victim of the Acromelagy disease
Acromelagy is the condition in which the pituitary gland is affected in such a way that it excretes excessive amounts of growth hormones. Often, the disorder is caused by a tumor or an anomalous growth on the gland itself.


The tissue of people with acromelagy is considerably softer. Their hands, legs, feet, nose, lips and ears are larger than normal. The same is true for their internal organs. Some disfigurement is observed where the condition affects the general bone structure of the face. The foreheads of sufferers are wider than usual, while their jaws protrude farther.


6. Small Pox


Small Pox
A Child infected with Small Pox
Small pox is a highly infectious disease caused by either the Variola major virus or its Variola minor variant. The first few symptoms are heightened versions of those observed with the common cold or influenza. People who are infected register fevers at very high temperatures. They experience intense headaches and muscle pains.


After 12-15 days of initial infection, lesions or “pox” begin to spring up throughout the victim’s body. Looking first like acne, these small red spots called enanthem grow larger through time. They enlarge up to the point of bursting, through which more of the virus is spread throughout the body. Small pox is considered the only disease successfully eradicated from nature. Nevertheless, survivors still have to deal with scars and wounds left by the lesions.


5. Leprosy


Ever since 300 BC, human communities all over the world have been plagued with Hansen’s disease, otherwise known as leprosy. Though not as contagious as small pox, leprosy is easily transmittable.

A 24 yr old man infected with leprosy
Before a treatment was discovered in the 1940s, entire leper colonies were set up to effectively segregate victims from the rest of society.


The stigma lepers were forcibly endowed with not only came because the disease was readily transmittable. The sickness affected the peripheral nerves to disfiguring ends. Lepers were often identified by the various lesions and boils they had on their faces.


This may have led many to believe that leprosy was a sickness that ate away at the sufferer’s flesh, causing limbs and other body parts to fall off. In truth, however, this isn’t the case.


4. Necrotizing Fasciitis


There is one condition that could qualify as a flesh-eating sickness. Called necrotizing fasciitis, this sickness is caused when certain bacteria spreads through the layers of the skin. Commonly, group A streptococcus is found to be responsible for the disease.


Necrotizing Fasciitis
Male right leg with Necrotizing Fasciitis
Cases of this flesh-eating disease are rare. Mostly, victims contract it through trauma sites, such as those from wounds or surgeries. Upon infection, the wound or surgery point feels extremely painful. As the disease spreads, it causes the infected area to swell up considerably. Sometimes, those who are infected start to vomit or have diarrhea around this time. The infected area often becomes purplish, while blisters begin to form. If left untreated, the sickness will certainly lead to death.


3. Elephantiasis


The Elephantiasis of Leg
Elephantiasis is a disease with symptoms that include the hardening of the skin and inflammation in the leg and genital areas. The skin is bloated to such an extent that the limbs of those afflicted resemble the limbs of elephants, hence the name.


This disfiguring disease is considered the most extreme symptom of lymphatic filariasis, another disease altogether. Lymphatic filariasis is caused by certain parasites and is often transmitted through mosquito bites. Most cases of lymphatic filariasis and elephantiasis occur in tropical regions.


2. Neurofibromatosis


In the movie “Mask” (1985), Eric Stoltz played “Rocky,” a teenager afflicted with a condition called neurofibromatosis. Mostly a genetic affliction, neurofibromatosis occurs when tumors grow from certain types of nerves to eventually affect the growth of non-nerve tissues such as bone and skin.


Patient with multiple small cutaneous neurofibromas
Neurofibromatosis is a blanket term that refers to all genetic afflictions that cause tumors to grow in this manner; therefore, the symptoms greatly vary. Some sufferers only have a few unnoticeable bumps here and there, while others have their entire bone structure significantly different from the usual. Just take a peek at screen shots of “Mask” and you will see how far the condition can change the face of a person.


1. Proteus Syndrome


Joseph Merrick, widely known as the Elephant man, was once thought to be stricken with neurofibromatosis.

Proteus Syndrome
Joseph Merrick with Proteus syndrome
Many contested this claim and posited that Merrick actually suffered from Proteus Syndrome. After it was discovered in 1979, confirmed cases numbered around 200. Some estimates project that only 120 people in the entire world are victims of Proteus Syndrome.


The syndrome causes an overgrowth of skin, bones, muscles, fatty tissue, and blood and lymphatic vessels, resulting in the overall disfigurement of the sufferer. The course of the disease is extremely random. Generally, however, children born with the disease do not immediately exhibit the symptoms. It is only through age that the deformities begin to manifest.


The overgrowth of bodily tissue isn’t deadly per se. However, most fatalities associated with the syndrome happen due to complications associated with the overgrowth. Merrick, for example, died when he suffocated under the weight of his deformed head.


Is Beauty Really in the Eye of the Beholder?


There are loads of other diseases that can disfigure people’s appearances, but if the whole notion of beauty (or ugliness) is questioned, there’s some doubt as to whether these diseases would still be considered disfiguring. Think about it. Do appearances really matter?


Apart from the Top Ten Deadliest Diseases In The World, these diseases mar the beauty of the world more than the others. Some of them may need cosmetic surgery to correct, so visiting your nearest cosmetic surgery center may be called for.

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