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Rare disease caused patient to see ‘demonic’ faces, ‘visual disturbances’ study finds

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It sounds like a horror movie, but for people with rare sicknessit’s a terrifying reality.

A condition called prosopometamorphopsia (PMO) causes distorted facial features, according to researchers at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

A study published in The Lancet found that a 58-year-old man reported seeing faces as distorted or “demonic” for 2 1/2 years.

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“The patient stated that distortions – highly stretched facial features, with deep grooves on the forehead, cheeks and chin – were present on the face of every person he met, but he reported no distortions when he looked at objects, such as houses or cars,” the researchers wrote in their results.

The patient did not see these same distortions when looking at two-dimensional faces on printed paper or digital screens.

Computer-generated images

Computer-generated images of distortions of a male face, top, and a female face, bottom, as perceived by a 58-year-old patient in a new study. (A. Mello et al.)

Yet despite the distortions, the patient said he was able to recognize people.

After the researchers showed the man some images on a screen of a person, they then asked him to compare the images with the actual face of that same person.

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The patient provided feedback on the differences he perceived between the two – and the researchers used computer software to edit the photo to capture what he saw.

“Through this process, we were able to visualize the patient’s perception of facial distortions in real time,” said Antonio Mello, doctoral student in psychology and brain science at Dartmouth who worked on the study, in a press release.

Eye scanner

“This suggests that the way the brain visually ‘displays’ faces and the brain’s ability to recognize a person’s face might occur in two different parts of the brain,” a neurologist said of the findings. study. (iStock)

Dr. Jonathan Tiu, a neurologist and assistant professor of neurology at Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine in New Jersey, was not involved in the study but reviewed the results.

“It’s fascinating that the patient highlighted in the recent Lancet case report was still able to recognize everyone he looked at,” Tiu told Fox News Digital.

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“This suggests that the way the brain visually ‘displays’ faces and the brain’s ability to recognize a person’s face might occur in two different parts of the brain.”

What you need to know about the PMO

The name of the disorder, prosopometamorphopsia, comes from “prosopo” (the Greek word for face, prosopon) and “metamorphopsia,” which refers to perceptual distortions.

Tiu described the PMO as a “very rare” visual disturbance” which causes a person to see visual distortions of facial features.

Experts do not fully understand how PMO occurs and who is most likely to experience it.

“This may include twisting or stretching a person’s eyes or visually bulging that person’s chin, or they may even see features where they shouldn’t be, such as seeing that person’s teeth hovering over their lips,” he said.

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Experts do not fully understand how PMO occurs and who is most likely to experience it.

“It is thought that damage to specific parts of the face-processing networks in the brain, whether of a stroke or tumor, can produce the symptoms of PMO,” Tiu said.

Brain neurons

Among those who are diagnosed with PMO, it is common that they were misdiagnosed at some point, the researchers said in the study results. (iStock)

This condition is also known to occur following migraines or seizures, but sometimes it occurs without any identifiable cause.

PMO is very rare, with less than 100 documented cases, according to the neurologist.

There are different types of PMO, as outlined in a separate article published by lead author Brad Duchaine, a professor of psychology and brain sciences at Dartmouth.

“It’s a problem that people often don’t understand.”

The two most common types are full facial prosopometamorphopsia (full PMO) and hemi-prosopometamorphopsia (hemi-PMO), he noted.

Most cases only last a few days or weeks.

Some patients, however, continue to experience distortions for years.

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Among people who have had PMO, it is common that they were misdiagnosed at some point, the researchers said in the study results.

“Many people with PMO have told us that they have been diagnosed by psychiatrists as having schizophrenia and put on treatment. antipsychoticswhen their condition is a problem with the visual system,” Duchaine said in the release.

Doctor and patient

In a 2021 study of 81 people with PMO, the authors found that there was complete or nearly complete recovery in more than half of the reported cases. (iStock)

“And it is not uncommon for people with PMO not to tell others about their face perception problem because they fear that others will think the distortions are a sign of a psychiatric disorder,” she said. he added.

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For those who suffer from this disease, the optimal treatment must be tailored to the underlying cause of the symptom, Tiu noted.

In a 2021 study of 81 people with PMO, the authors found that there was complete or nearly complete recovery in more than half of the reported cases, he noted.

“Among those who recovered, the Prime Minister’s Office resolved the problem quickly within days or even weeks,” Tiu said.

Face processing networks that involve the PMO may be in a part of the brain that generally has good recovery potential.

“However, some patients took years to recover, and in a group of patients, symptoms demonstrated no improvement.”

The study authors concluded that face processing networks that involve the PMO might be in a part of the brain that typically has good recovery potential, Tiu added.

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Dartmouth researchers expressed hope that this latest study will help raise awareness of this rare but serious disease.

As Duchaine added, “it’s a problem that people often don’t understand.”

Fox News Digital has contacted the researchers for additional comment.

For more health articles, visit www.foxnews.com/health.

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