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An Extremely Rare Neurological Disorder: What is Alien Hand Syndrome?

By: Salina Shafi

Around the world, there are numerous diseases and ailments that are uncommon to the common people. In contrast, we know about the common cold, cancer, heart diseases, and so many more. So much research has been conducted about these ailments, allowing for more knowledge and direction for medical professionals. Yet, for the uncommon diseases and disorders, there is little to no research resulting in little to no treatment options. There are very few individuals that can address these uncommon diseases. For instance, the exceedingly rare Alien Hand Syndrome, also known as Dr. Strangelove syndrome, is not commonly known to the general population. This is a neurological disorder characterized by a lack of control in a patient’s hand, usually the non-dominant hand. The hand starts to function as if it has a mind of its own. If the patient brings up concerns about having a lack of control over their hand after neurosurgery, a physician should consider Alien Hand Syndrome.



This disease can only be diagnosed through observation. However, there is still no specific definition of what alien hand syndrome is, and how the disease affects patients. Most patients report their upper limbs feeling foreign to their body and experience involuntary movement from the limbs. Having an “alien” hand can last anywhere from hours to days to years, as there is no standard timeline. (Panikkath 2014) This syndrome is more likely to happen to adults rather than children. Some people may develop this syndrome after having a stroke, experiencing some sort of trauma, or having a tumor. Alien Hand Syndrome has been linked to brain surgeries that separate the two hemispheres of the brain. (Cronkleton 2018) During certain brain surgeries, the two hemispheres of the brain are separated and an incision is made along the corpus callosum. This divide of the two hemispheres may potentially be a factor that causes Alien Hand Syndrome.

Patients with Alien Hand Syndrome are taken to get an MRI, so that their healthcare team can study the brain’s activity and the primary motor cortex is observed. Through the MRI, the physicians are also able to observe which parts of the brain are activated when there are voluntary movements versus involuntary movements.



In some cases, patients have had to have their hand restricted because they completely lose control of that limb. Patients have also reported experiencing violence from their alienated hands. The hand would try to choke or physically harm them in other ways. For most individuals, the alien hand will be uncooperative and will not follow the commands intended. It can be something as minor as the fingers twitching to something as major as the alien hand completing tasks that the individual had no intention of completing. Patients are often advised to regulate their environment to prevent loss of control through fatigue. They can manage their symptoms through muscle control therapies like Botox and neuromuscular blocking agents. Depending on the patient and their situation, the doctor could also recommend different types of therapies such as mirror box therapy, cognitive therapy, physical therapy or occupational therapy. These methods do not cure alien hand syndrome, but they do help the patient manage the syndrome. (Cronkleton 2018)



There remains much research that needs to be conducted on Alien Hand Syndrome, and there are limited reported cases for researchers to study. The hope for the future is to discover how this disorder is developed and how it functions. This will lead the way to one day finding a better way for patients to manage their alien hand symptoms. Most cases are detected after the patient thoroughly describes their symptoms. This is an extremely rare syndrome, and it is equally important to obtain treatment when diagnosed with this syndrome.

To learn more about this disease, and how it has impacted a real patient, feel free to watch this video for more information!


References

Cronkleton, E. (2018, September 18). Alien Hand Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment. healthline. Retrieved December 22, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/alien-hand-syndrome#outlook

Mark, V. W. (2007, January 22). Alien hand syndrome. JSMF. Retrieved December 22, 2021, from https://www.jsmf.org/meetings/2008/may/Mark%20VW%202008%20Alien%20hand%20syndrome.pdf

​​Assal, F., Schwartz, S., & Vuilleumier, P. (2007). Moving with or without will: Functional neural

correlates of alien hand syndrome. Annals of Neurology, 62(3), 301-306. https://doi.org/10.1002/ana.21173

Panikkath, R., Panikkath, D., Mojumder, D., & Nugent, K. (2014). The alien hand syndrome.

Proceedings (Baylor University. Medical Center), 27(3), 219–220. https://doi.org/10.1080/08998280.2014.11929115


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