What is alien hand syndrome?
Alien hand syndrome (AHS) is a very rare neurological disorder where you lose control over your hand. In other words, your hand moves independently and do things your mind didn't plan for. When a person has this medical condition, his/her hand will act as though it's under an alien force control and causes havoc. Besides, this syndrome may rarely affect a leg too.
In fact, you can see the alien hand syndrome (AHS) in Stanley Kubrick's film “Doctor Strangelove”. In S. Kubrick's film, the doctor's hand could not help giving a Nazi salute. We also encounter this cerebral anomaly in episode 24 of season 5 of Doctor House where the hand of a young man assaults his spouse. Furthermore, in "Harry Potter" we see Peter Pettigrew being strangled by his own hand which is similar to this syndrome.
This alien hand seems to be endowed with its own consciousness, its own goals and intentions. Sometimes good and sometimes bad, it acts without the patient being able to have any control over it. The alien hand may not seem painful, but it can be a source of embarrassment and frustration for both the patients and their families.
The first description of alien hand syndrome dates back to 1908. As a matter of fact, alien hand can occur in children, but it usually happens to adults.
While observing the television, an elderly woman felt her left hand touching her face and hair as if it were being controlled by someone.
Can alien hand syndrome kill you?
Yes, it can since your alien hand act as if it has a mind on its own. That is to say, you may find your alien hand slapping or punching your face repeatedly. Take another scenario in which the alien hand attempts to strangle you while keeping a tight grip to your neck. Actually, anything could happen unexpectedly when you lose control over your hand, it's a very terrifying condition.
What causes alien hand syndrome?
As a result of brain parts having a lack or miscommunication, alien hand syndrome occurs. Generally speaking, Alien Hand Syndrome, or Dr. Strangelove, is a brain disorder. Indeed, the brain is responsible for voluntary motor functions. It manages and coordinates all of our movements, from the simplest to the most complex.
Considering that the corpus callosum is at the center of the two brain hemispheres, it allows the coordination of movements, hands and legs. That said, if this part in the center of our brain is damaged, information will be lost. Without the corpus callosum, it is hard, even impossible, to recognize an identical object present in the left hand, then in the right hand (problem of inter-manual comparison).
An American study indicate the causes of AHS. Thereby, reasons behind this syndrome can be neurosurgery, tumor, aneurysms and rarely stroke. That said, infections or damage to the corpus callosum can also cause limbs to feel strange, making diagnosis difficult. It is also possible for epilepsy surgeries to have such an effect on the brain.
The foreign hand actually concerns a multitude of particular clinical conditions. These come together as:
- A feeling of strangeness in an upper limb
- Out of control behaviors
- A hand that acts on its own will
These different symptoms, as bothersome as they are, are present in the different categories of Dr. Strangelove syndrome.
Strangelove syndrome categories are:
- Inter-manual conflict: one of the hands cancels all the actions of the second.
- Foreign hand: feeling of a hand having its own will.
- Anarchic hand syndrome: one of the hands performs an action with a different purpose than the person.
- Syndrome of the supernumerary: the patient has the feeling of having an extra member.
- Levitating hand: one of the limbs tends to stay in the air without the patient wanting it.
How to diagnose alien hand syndrome?
Diagnosis is based on stroke history and clinical examination. Above all, research demonstrates that a preexisting stroke proposes a high risk for AHS. Thus, physicians should monitor stroke patients closely to avoid the development of the syndrome. In addition, the major method used to diagnose alien hand syndrome is by MRI machine. To illustrate, it is likely that MRI scans are most useful for determining whether a patient has AHS since they provide data about the patient's brain function best.
Alien hand syndrome treatment:
There's no cure for hand syndrome, but you can control it by keeping the hand busy. For example, you may give the alien hand a task to do like holding a cane or tucking it under or between legs. Moreover, mirror therapy seems to improve limbs movement so it may help control the symptoms. Other ways to manage the bothersome symptoms are learning task behavioral therapies, cognitive therapy techniques and visuospatial coaching.
Primary reason for medical practitioners to keep up with alien hand syndrome patients is to learn how to improve AHS treatment methods.
When a stroke or a brain disease are the reasons why AHS takes place, there's a chance for recovery within weeks or months. On the other hand, if a neurodegenerative disease is why AHS is present, then recovery is less likely.
Complications or manifestation of alien hand syndrome:
Some of these manifestations can be extremely disturbing for the patient and for those around him.
Self-groping: one of the patient's limbs touches or caresses him.
Self-criticism: the person claps their “foreign” hand with their normal hand.
Total loss of control: the limb seems to be controlled by a force coming from outside the patient.
Involuntary grasping: a patient's hand may grasp an object without wanting to release it.
Aggression: some examples from the literature report cases of self-aggression and hetero-aggression by the foreign member.
-Panikkath R, Panikkath D, Mojumder D, Nugent K. The alien hand syndrome. Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). 2014;27(3):219-220. doi:10.1080/08998280.2014.11929115
-Pradhan, A., Reddy, A. J., Rajendran, A., Nawathey, N., Bachir, M., & Brahmbhatt, H. (2022). An Investigation on the Preconditions and Diagnosis Methods for Alien Hand Syndrome. Cureus, 14(2), e22381. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.22381
-BBC news "Alien Hand Syndrome sees woman attacked by her own hand", available from: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-12225163
-Image credits: https://www.freepik.com/photos/angry-man