Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Medical Fact of the Day

Have you ever spent hours trying to go to sleep? How about days? Months?...
Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI) is a rare genetically inherited disease that afflicts just 28 families worldwide, but is passed on to 50% of all offspring. FFI was first discovered in 1974 when an Italian physician learned of 2 women in the same family who had apparently died of insomnia. In 1984, another member of the family began to show similar symptoms. Doctors documented his fatal decline and flew his brain to the U.S. for further studies after his death.

Research has shown that a certain genetic mutation causes a build up of a plaque like substance in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates sleep. Between the ages of 30 and 60 years old, patients begin to exhibit insomnia-like sleep patterns, developing panic attacks and phobias over a period of 4 months. During the next 5 months, patients begin to hallucinate, followed by a 3 month period during which the patient is unable to sleep at all. At this point, the patient will suffer from extreme weight loss, and will soon suffer from complete dementia before going into a zombie-like state, exhibiting no response to the outside world. Ultimately, the patient dies due to a lack of sleep.

There is no present cure for FFI, and sleeping pills seem to only increase the rate at which the disease attacks the host. Gene therapy appears to be the only viable option, although it has been unsuccessful to date.

So, if you have problems going to sleep at night, just remember that it could be a lot worse.
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Anonymous said...

you can read about the story in my book The Family That Couldn't Sleep--dt max

Adam G said...

Wow, there's a book about it?! Thanks for the info! I'll look into it and maybe try to read it after finals.
Thanks for the comment.