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What is Alice In Wonderland Syndrome (AIWS)?

1208810_alice_in_wonderlandAfter reading the title, you might have stared at it for a few seconds wondering what exactly it means. Having read the meaning of the word ‘syndrome’ as ‘a set of symptoms occurring together’, you definitely cannot imagine a famous fantasy story title sitting beside a term related to diseases and disorders. How are these two related then? Join me in getting an insight into the relationship between them!

If you are good at imagination, by now you might have come up with some wild guesses linking the two parts of the title, assuming to have something common between Alice and this syndrome. Well, to be frank, you are correct to an extent.

Alice In Wonderland Syndrome (AIWS) can be defined as a neurological condition that is associated with migraine in most of the cases. Due to inappropriate functioning of cells in some areas of brain, the patients with AIWS experience unusual perceptions, the most common ones being:

  • Visual Perception alteration – External objects are seen or perceived incorrectly. These seem to be closer, or farther away, or smaller or bigger than their normal size.
  • Body Image alteration – Body parts are perceived wrongly. You may feel as though your body has elongated or shrunk.
  • Texture Perception Distortions – You may feel the floor you are standing on is spongy or any soft things such as bed linen will seem like a stony surface.
  • Time Distortions – You may get a feeling that the events are suddenly speeding up or slowing down.
  • Emotional Disturbances – A strong feeling that you are being stalked and an extreme level of fear.
  • Body Balance Perceptions – You may feel that you are spinning or the standing position is not straight i.e. you are standing at an angle.
  • Sensation of unusual set of smells and tastes.
  • Auditory Perception Distortions – Normal sounds and voices seem to be coming from a long distance and seem to be very loud and aggressive.

A few more not very common symptoms include hearing voices, solid objects hallucination, feeling the presence of an ‘alter ego’ and hallucinating about visiting unknown places. Because of these unusual symptoms, victims do not open up about this syndrome to anyone fearing the consequence of being labeled as ‘mentally abnormal.’

Migraine, temporal lobe epilepsy and Epstein-Barr virus which causes glandular fever are thought to be the possible causes of AIWS.

Who identified it and how did it get its name?

In 1955, a psychiatrist named John Todd from Yorkshire, England coined the term “Alice In Wonderland Syndrome” after interviewing a bunch of patients who mentioned their bizarre and weird symptoms, some of which were also found commonly in conditions such as drug abuse, brain tumors, alcoholism etc but none of them had any of these conditions.

Moreover, all these patients were mentally fit. They could clearly distinguish between hallucination and reality. Their thinking power was similar to a normal person. But the only thing common among them was their family history of migraine and the doctor finally came to a conclusion that all of them were in an aura caused by migraine.

Taking into consideration all the symptoms mentioned by his patients, he came up with the name “Alice In Wonderland Syndrome” for his new discovery after the famous novel “Alice In Wonderland” authored by Lewis Carroll.

Almost all of us have either read this bedtime classic or watched the animated version of it on television or did both. If you remember, the lead character Alice shrinks after drinking a liquid labeled “Drink me” and suddenly grows tall to the extent that her head hits the ceiling after eating a cake labeled “Eat me”. Due to the similarity of the morphological changes experienced in both the cases, Todd decided to give it the name of AIWS.

Are you among those who are affected?

The answer to this question is may be or may not be. This syndrome usually affects children and teenagers. It gradually disappears as the years pass by. Moreover, more than men, women have complained of having its symptoms and being affected by AIWS.

The effect of this mysterious syndrome on a person’s life entirely depends on the frequency at which the symptoms are showing up and their intensity.

  • Some people experience a few episodes of it only during nights.
  • Some others may experience it many times in a single day.
  • Individuals experiencing mild symptoms do not have much difficulty in performing their daily activities.
  • People with intense symptoms may face difficulties that may cost them their jobs. For example, hallucinations and visual distortion can impair a person’s ability to operate a machine.
  • Irrespective of the age group, if the intensity of symptoms is severe, it leads to anxiety, low esteem and panic attacks.

Now you can imagine the result of the combination of migraine and AIWS.

Even today, 5 decades after the birth of this syndrome, not many people are aware of it. As a matter of fact, many doctors throughout the world do not know the very existence of it. This could be due to the fear among people that they will be given the tag of ‘crazy’ if this weird behavior of theirs gets exposed.

Can AIWS be treated?

Improvement was seen in some cases after being given anti-migraine and anti-epilepsy treatments and beta-blockers. Here are some easy tips to treat the condition.

  • Stress-management plays a significant role in reducing the symptoms, as both migraine and Alice In Wonderland Syndrome are stress related.
  • Use headphones if you hear loud, aggressive sounds. Try to remain silent.
  • Avoid dehydration and tiredness. Lead a healthy lifestyle.

Have you seen ‘yourself’ while going through the article or has your best friend confided in you about his or her ‘secret madness’? Welcome to the world of Alice In Wonderland Syndrome.There are several others out there who are suffering in the dark due to lack of research information on this condition. If the symptoms are unbearable, open up to your doctor and seek advice. Stop suffering in silence!

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