Alien Hand Syndrome: A Terrifying And Very Real Disorder

This is one of the strangest disorders around...

Karen Byrne during an episode with her Alien Hand Image BBC

Picture this: you wake up in the middle of the night with your hand around your throat choking the life out of you, and there is no way to stop it because your brain and seemingly murderous appendage are not in sync.

Sounds like something out of a classic horror B movie, a la Idle Hands where Devon Sawa’s character involuntarily kills his entire family and scalps some poor sod due to his right hand being possessed.

The concept of an autonomous and evil hand sounds farfetched – but it’s a very real problem, though rare with only 40 – 50 reported cases.

Alien Hand Syndrome is a condition that has puzzled the medical community and embarrassed sufferers for a long time. Described by scientists as “complex, goal-directed activity in one hand that is not voluntarily initiated,” the syndrome usually affects the non-dominant hand.

Reportedly those with AHS can unwittingly grab a breast or fondle someone within their vicinity, while they are aware of the random movement. The afflicted also give their alien hands names and refer to them in the third person, saying “I can’t make it listen to me.” So creepy.

Symptoms of the condition range from the compulsive grabbing and releasing of an object to losing complete ‘sense of agency’ with the hand doing what it wants, such as unbuttoning your shirt while you’re trying to button it. In more severe instances it can get out of hand, literally – like the case of one patient who called her hand “Baby Joseph.”

The alien hand would grab at her nipples and engage in playful and somewhat troublesome activities. The owner of Baby Joseph often scolded her hand and instructing it to “not be naughty.” One of the worst events recorded saw a person’s alien hand try to strangle them with a cord.

Many of those dealing with this problem have tried to amputate their affected limbs, like in the case of a fifty-year-old woman following a brain injury, “Suddenly I had a strange feeling on my left side; later I could not recognise the left arm as my own; I felt it belonged to someone else and wanted to hurt me because it moved towards me; I saw it quite big and distorted like a monster; I was terrified,” she recounted to doctors in a study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry.

Another story involves Karen Byrne, an American who was continuously impeded by her left hand. She told the BBC, “It would take things out of my handbag, and I wouldn’t realise so I would walk away. I lost a lot of things before I realised what was going on.”

The source of this insanity starts in the brain and usually occurs in those who have had neurotrauma or surgery, especially the epileptic crowd. Basically, AHS happens when the two hemispheres of our brain aren’t working together for a particular reason due to something affecting it. The lobes involved in the condition are the frontal, occipital and parietal. Each is involved in body movement, processing, and touch.

There is no cure for AHS, but doctors have been able to find medication that can keep it at bay. Also it’s recommended that the foreign hand is kept occupied by grasping a cane at all times or wedging the hand between the legs.

The entire ordeal sounds unbelievably grim but wildly interesting at the same time. Hopefully, a cure is imminent for all those suffering from this weird disorder.

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