healthHealth and Medicine

7 Of The Worst Diseases You've Never Heard Of


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer


Some disease can cause an intense amount of pain. luxorphoto/Shutterstock

There are some pretty painful diseases on planet Earth. Some are infectious, others genetic, but most have some pretty grisly symptoms.

From permanent disfiguration to endless pain more intense than childbirth, here we run through some of the diseases and disorders you really don't want to develop.


Modern treatment techniques have helped reduce the severity of some of these conditions, but many remain untreatable with unknown causes.

Adiposis dolorosa

First up on our list is this rare condition that causes multiple painful fatty tumors to grow on a person’s body.

It mostly occurs in obese women between the ages of 35 and 50. The tumors, known as lipomas, can appear all over the body but often show up on the torso, buttocks, and the top of arms and legs.


They cause a severe burning or aching pain, which for some people is continuous and for others lasts hours. Movement can make the pain worse, as will gaining weight and menstruation.

Also known as Dercum’s disease, there are no known causes of this condition. Treatment can involve surgically removing the tumors, while liposuction can also relieve some symptoms.

Adiposis dolorosa causes painful lipomas to appear. Timonina/Shutterstock

Post-herpetic neuralgia

This condition is a result of getting shingles, itself not too pleasant. About one in five people who have had shingles will develop post-herpetic neuralgia.


“The main symptom of post-herpetic neuralgia is intermittent or continuous nerve pain in an area previously affected by shingles,” notes the NHS. “The pain has been described as burning, stabbing, shooting, aching, throbbing or like electric shocks.”

The exact causes of it are not known, although the chickenpox virus (herpes zoster) is thought to play a part. Older people appear more likely to develop it and there’s also no way to prevent it, although treating shingles as early as possible with antiviral medication can help.

Trigeminal neuralgia

This is a sudden, severe facial pain that’s described as having an electric shock in your jaw, lasting from minutes to hours. Yeah, ouch.


It’s so painful, described as the most painful condition in the medical world, that it’s sometimes called “suicide disease”. It’s the result of a disorder in the trigeminal nerve, which is found in the face, causing it to overreact to everyday stimuli like talking or eating.

Painkillers like morphine appear to have no effect in alleviating the pain. Some surgical procedures can be used to cure the condition, but at the moment there’s no known cure. The exact cause is also unknown, although may be due to the compression of a blood vessel as the nerve exits the brain.

The trigeminal nerve pictured folded and compressed by blood vessels. Luigi Berra/Wikimedia Commons


Sickle cell disease


Also known as sickle cell anemia, this genetic blood disorder causes red blood cells to form abnormally in the shape of a crescent or sickle. The result is excruciating pain.

The disease is lifelong, with no known cure at the moment. People are born with it but normally don’t develop any symptoms and, if they do, they develop later. It’s caused by a faulty gene that affects the development of red blood cells.

These include bouts of intense pain called crises, which can last up to a week. Fortunately, they can be managed somewhat with painkillers, while a risk of infection can be reduced with antibiotics.

It can sometimes be fatal, with people having a severe form of the disease typically living to between 40 and 60 years old. Newer treatments are increasing this, however.


Cancrum Oris

This infectious disease, also called Noma, is most common in malnourished children in sub-Saharan Africa. It destroys soft and hard tissue in the face, causing gangrenous lesions to appear.

It has an extremely high mortality rate of up to 90 percent, but even for those that survive it leaves them badly disfigured. The physical effects are permanent.

Being properly fed and good hygiene can prevent the condition, while it can also be stopped with antibiotics once it has started. Sadly, there have been several cases of children being ostracized as others do not want to catch the condition.

Cancrum Oris causes permanent effects to the face. Brian L. Fisher, California Academy of Sciences/Wikimedia Commons

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

This is regarded as the most painful form of chronic pain that can be developed. It’s normally triggered by an injury like fracturing a bone, and the pain is normally within one limb, although it can spread. This disorder is also known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD).

It’s pretty horrifying, though. The pain is listed as worse than childbirth and the amputation of a finger. It can cause the skin to become so sensitive that a slight touch can cause intense pain.

While some cases get better, others experience it for years. The exact cause is unknown, with about 1 in 3,800 people in the UK developing CRPS each year.



This highly contagious disease can cause a thick grey-white coating to appear at the back of your throat, making it hard to breathe. It also can cause pus-filled blisters on your legs, feet, and hands.

It’s caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheria, and in severe cases, it can lead to heart failure, paralysis, and even death.

Treatment and vaccinations have prevented the spread of the disease, but 7,321 cases were still reported globally in 2014, with the true figure expected to be much higher.


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