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Stitches brew: A brief look at self-harm lip sewing

In previous blogs I have examined both self-harming behaviour (such as cutting off one’s own genitals, removing one’s own eye, removing one’s own ear, self-asphyxial risk taking in adolescence, and religious self-flagellation) and extreme body modification. One area where these two areas intersect is lip sewing. According to the Wikipedia entry on lip sewing:

“Lip sewing or mouth sewing, the operation of stitching together human lips, is a form of body modification. It may be carried out for aesthetic or religious reasons; as a play piercing practice; or as a form of protest. Sutures are often used to stitch the lips together, though sometimes piercings are made with needle blades or cannulas and monofilament is threaded through the holes. There is usually a fair amount of swelling, but permanent scarring is rare. Lip sewing may be done for aesthetic reasons, or to aid meditation by helping the mind to focus by removing the temptation to speak. BMEzine, an online magazine for body modification culture, published an article about a 23-year-old film student Inza, whose quest for body modifications was very varied. She spoke about her experiences with lip sewing as a form of play piercing”.

My reason for writing this blog was prompted by a case study published by Dr. Safak Taktak and his colleagues in the journal Health Care Current Reviews. (I ought to add that I have read a number of papers by Taktak and his colleagues as they have reported some interesting other interesting case studies including those on shoe fetishism, semen fetishism, and fetishes more generally – see ‘Further reading’ below). In this particular paper, they reported the case of a male prisoner who had continually sewed his lips together. Although they were aware of cases of sewing lips together as a form of protest, they claimed that there had never been any case reported in the medical literature.

lip-sewing

The case report involved a male 37-year old Turkish (imprisoned) farmer, father of two children, with only basic education. After sewing his lips together, the man was brought into the hospital by the police, along with a handwritten note that read: “My jinns imposed speech ban to me and they made me sew my lips unwillingly. Otherwise, they threaten me with my children. I want to meet a psychiatrist urgently”. (Jinns I later learned are – in Arabian and Muslim mythology – intelligent spirits of lower rank than the angels, able to appear in human and animal forms and are able to possess humans). Not only were his lips sown together with black thread but he had also sewn both of his ears to the side of his head (these are also photographed in the paper and you can download the report free from here). This was actually the fourth time the man had sewed his lips together (but the first that he had sewn his ears). Each time, the doctors took out the stitches and dressed the wounds. The authors examined previous documentation about the man and reported that the man had been in prison for four years after injuring someone (no details were provided) and had been diagnosed with both anxiety disorder and anti-social personality disorder. On a prison ward comprising ten other prisoners, he had attempted suicide when trying to hang himself (in fact, you can clearly see the marks on his neck in the paper’s photographs). The authors reported that:

[The man] had blunted affect. He wasn’t able to stay in the [prison] ward because of the directive voices in his head. He declared he needed to stay in the ward alone. He heard all the words as swearing and he was punished by some people as well as some entities. He also said that some jinns in the form of animals threatened him not to speak and listen to anyone; otherwise they were going to kill his kids. He wanted to protect his children [and] he stitched his lips not to speak anyone and stitched his ears not to hear anyone. In his family history, he stated that his uncle committed suicide by hanging himself and saying ‘the birds are calling me’; his father was schizophrenia-diagnosed”.

The authors then reported:

“The patient stated that he sewed his lips with any colour of thread he could find. He had approximately fifteen pinholes on his upper and lower lips. He tended to suicide with directive auditory and visual hallucination (sic) and reference paranoid delirium. As he was imprisoned, he wasn’t able to use drugs. The patient who was thought to have a psychotic disorder was injected [with] 10 mg haloperidol intramuscularly and he was sent to a safe psychiatry hospital”.

As I have noted in my previous blogs on self-harming behaviour (and as noted in this particular paper), there are many different definitions of what constitutes self-destructive behaviour. This particular case was said to be suited to the psychotic behaviours characterised by Dr. Armando Favazza’s three self-destructive behaviours (i.e., compulsive, typical, and psychotic) outlined in his 1992 paper ‘Repetitive self-mutilation’ (published in the journal Psychiatry Annals). In their discussion of the case, the authors noted:

“The cases like sewing one’s own lips which we observe as a different type of destructing oneself in our case are mostly regarded as intercultural expression of feelings. The ones, who sew their lips in order to protest something, show their reactions by blocking the nutrition intake organ to the ones who want to continue their superiority. It can be expected in psychotic cases that the patients or his beloved ones might be harmed, damaged or affected emotionally. Thus, the patient who is furious and anxious might react by [attempting] violence as a reaction to these repetitive threats. Auditory hallucinations giving orders can cause the aggressive behaviours to start…In our psychotic case, this kind of behaviour is a way to prevent the voices coming from his inner world, not to answer them and hence making passive defending to world which he does not want to interact. By this means, he may harmonise with the secret natural powers which affect him and he may protect himself his children…[also] there can be a relief through sewing lips and ears or strangulation against the oppression created by the person not being able to adapt the prison…It should not be forgotten that the prison is a stressful environment and stressful living [increases] the disposition to psychopathologic behaviour that the living difficulties in prisons can affect the way of thinking and the capacity of coping and it may cause different psychiatric incidences”.

As noted at the start of this article, lip sewing is typically attributed to religious reasons, reasons of protest or aesthetic reasons. In this particular case, none of these reasons was apparent (and therefore notable – in the medical and psychiatric literature at the very least). The addition of sewing his ears appears to be even more rare, and thus warrants further research.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Favazza, A.R. (1992). Repetitive self-mutilation. Psychiatric Annals, 22(2), 60-63.

Taktak, S., Ersoy, S., Ünsal, A., & Yetkiner, M. (2014). The man who sewed his mouth and ears: A case report. Health Care Current Reviews, 2(121), 2.

Taktak, S., Karakus, M., & Eke, S. M. (2015). The man whose fetish object is ejaculate: A case report. Journal of Psychiatry, 18(276), 2.

Taktak, S., Karakuş, M., Kaplan, A., & Eke, S. M. (2015). Shoe fetishism and kleptomania comorbidity: A case report. European Journal of Pharmaceutical and Medical Research, 2, 14-19.

Taktak, S., Yılmaz, E., Karamustafalıoglu, O., & Ünsal, A. (2016). Characteristics of paraphilics in Turkey: A retrospective study – 20years. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, in press.

Wikipedia (2016). Lip sewing. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lip_sewing

Swearing blind: A brief look at Anton-Babinski Syndrome‬

The last time I examined some aspect of blindness in my blog was when I examined amaurophilia, a sexual paraphilia where the individual derives sexual pleasure and arousal “by a partner who is blind or unable to see due to artificial means such as being blindfolded or having sex in total darkness”. In today’s blog I briefly examine Anton-Babinski Syndrome (ABS), a rare symptom of occipital lobe brain damage in which sufferers who are “cortically blind”, adamantly claim they are capable of seeing and/or experiencing strange hallucinatory episodes. Consequently, confabulation is common among ABS sufferers. (Confabulation is viewed as a memory disturbance characterized by verbal statements or actions that do not accurately reflect the facts and evidence. Some have described it as “honest lying” because the person usually has no intention of to deceiving the people they are talking to and are usually unaware that the things they are saying are false). For instance, Raj Patel in a 2009 book The Value of Nothing reported one female ABS patient saw a new village outside her window that she couldn’t recall being built. On another occasion she saw a girl in her house that she claimed needed food.

ABS was named after Gabriel Anton (an Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist) and Joseph Babinski (a French neurologist of Polish heritage), and is a form of anosognosia (i.e., an unawareness of severe bodily impairment or disability) that typically arises following a stroke or head injury. According to a 2009 case report by Dr. M. Maddula and colleagues in the Journal of Medical Case Reports, ischemic cerebrovascular disease is the most common etiology of cortical blindness in ABS. A literature review in a 2012 issue of the Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science notes that other diseases described as causes of cortical blindness leading to ABS are “MELAS [Mitochondrial encephalomyopathy, lactic acidosis, and stroke-like episodes], preeclampsia, obstetric hemorrhage, trauma, adrenloeucodistrophy, hypertensive encephalopathy and angiographic procedures”.

In the late 1890s, Anton described three patients (one denying blindness, one denying deafness, and one denying left-sided paralysis) although it was Babinski that coined the term ‘anosognosia’ in 1914 (derived from the Greek for ‘lacking knowledge about disease’). Similar cases were then published sporadically over the next 50 years including Pötzl (1924), Nielsen (1946), Hécaen and de Ajuriaguerra (1954), Levin, Povorinsky, and Tonkonogy (1961), and Hécaen (1972). Some view this condition as the conceptual opposite of blindsight. The Wikipedia entry on ABS notes that:

“The sudden development of bilateral occipital dysfunction is likely to produce transient physical and psychical effects in which mental confusion may be prominent. It may be some days before the relatives, or the nursing staff, stumble onto the fact that the patient has actually become sightless. This is not only because the patient ordinarily does not volunteer the information that he has become blind, but he furthermore misleads his entourage by behaving and talking as though he were sighted. Attention is aroused however when the patient is found to collide with pieces of furniture, to fall over objects, and to experience difficulty in finding his way around. He may try to walk through a wall or through a closed door on his way from one room to another. Suspicion is still further alerted when he begins to describe people and objects around him which, as a matter of fact, are not there at all. Thus we have the twin symptoms of anosognosia (or lack of awareness of defect) and confabulation, the latter affecting both speech and behaviour”.

According to the US National Institute of Health, ABS affects less than 200,000 people in the whole of the US population. ABS sufferers typically explain their bruises and injuries as a result of clumsiness or absentmindedness (rather than poor vision or blindness). Consequently, confabulation is often a way in which ABS can be diagnosed.

There are a number of theories as to how ABS occurs as no-one knows for sure why patients deny they are blind. One school of thought is that visual cortex damage may result in an inability to communicate with the brain’s speech-language areas (i.e., visual information is received but not interpreted correctly and a verbal response is confabulated). In fact, Dr. G. Goldenberg and colleagues in a 1995 issue of the journal Neuropsychologia claim that damage to the visual association cortex is thought to be one of the main causes explaining the loss of awareness of the visual deficit. Others postulate that ABS patients are simply having hallucinatory sensations (unrelated to their actual surrounding reality).

In a 1978 French neurology journal, Dr. J.M. Verret and Dr. J. Lapresle described a female ABS patient presenting with an accompanying delusional conviction in which she “recognised her left upper limb with the aid of her right hand, but immediately denied its existence when she viewed it directly. In contrast, when placed in front of a mirror, she recognised this upper limb perfectly, recognition disappearing again when direct vision was associated with vision in the mirror”. The authors suggested there was a possibility of a resurgence in adult life of the duality of the visual body image, direct or reflected, such as is normally experienced in childhood and, more prolonged, in identical twins.

The most recently published paper on ABS was a 2012 paper by Dr. Juan Carvajal and his colleagues in the Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science. They reported the cases of two ABS patients. The first was a 96-year-old male with visual anosognosia secondary to cerebral artery thrombosis, and the second was a 56-year-old female with ABS secondary to central nervous system angiitis in relation with multiple sclerosis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. They reported that although ischemic vascular cerebral disease is a frequent etiology with ABS (as noted above), they believed that this was the first report of ABS in relation to angiitis with a clear autoimmune pathogenesis. ABS can be treated with cognitive therapy although in some instances it may simply fade away over time (but most in the medical profession recommend treatment rather than just letting it fade).

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Anton, G. (1898). Über Herderkrankungen des Gehirns, welche vom Patienten selbst nicht wahrgenommen werden. Wiener klinische Wochenschrift, 11, 227–229.

Anton, G. (1899). Über die selbst wharnehmoung der herederkrankungen des gehirns durch den kranken der rindenblindheit und rindentaubheit. Archiv für Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten, 32, 86–127.

Babinski, J. (1914). Contribution à l’étude des troubles mentaux dans l’hemiplegie cerebrale (anosognosie). Revue Neurologique, 27, 845–847.

Carvajal, J.J.R., Cárdenas, A.A.A, Pazmiño, G.Z., & Herrera, P.A. (2012). Visual anosognosia (Anton-Babinski Syndrome): Report of two cases associated with ischemic cerebrovascular disease. Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science, 2, 394-398.

Critchley, M. (1953). The parietal lobes. London: E. Arnold and Co.

Goldenberg, G., Mullbacher, W. & Nowak, A. (1995). Imagery without perception: A case study of anosognosia for cortical blindness. Neuropsychologia, 33, 1373-1382.

Hécaen, H. (1972). Introduction a la neuropsychologie. Paris: Larousse.

Levin, G. Z., Povorinsky, Y. A., & Tonkonogy, J. M. (1961). Analysis of the case with agnosia of faces developed after air embolism of cerebral vessels [in Russian]. In G. B. Abramovich & G. Z. Levin (Eds.), Problems of Localization and Focal Diagnostic in Neurology and Psychiatry (pp. 111-123), Leningrad: Bechterev Institute Press.

Maddula, M., Lutton, S. & Keegan, B. (2009). Anton’s Syn-drome due to cerebrovascular disease: A case report. Journal of Medical Case Reports, 3, 9028.

McGlynn, S.M. & Schacter, D.L. (1989). Unawareness of deficits in neuropsychological syndromes. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 11, 143-205.

Misra, M., Rath, S. & Mohanty, A.B. (1989). Anton Syndrome and cortical blindness due to bilateral occipital infarction. Indian Journal of Ophthalmology, 37(4), 196.

Nielsen, J. M. (1946). Agnosia, apraxia, aphasia: Their value in cerebral localization. New York: Hoeber.

Patel, R. (2009). The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market. London: Portobello Books.

Poetzl, O. (1924). Uber die Storungen der Selbst wahrnehmung bey linksetiger hemiplegie. Zeitschrift für Neurologie und Psychiatrie, 93, 117–168.

Verret, J.M. & Lapresle, J. (1978). [Anton-Babinski syndrome with recognition of the left upper limb on visualization in a mirror] (Article in French). Rev Neurol (Paris), 134, 709-713.

Wikipedia (2012). Anton-Babinski Syndrome. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anton–Babinski_syndrome

“I see dead people”: Are hallucinations always bad?

I have to admit that I know relatively little about the neuropsychology of hallucinations. The only time I have written about them in scientific journals is in the context of excessive video gaming where there are case studies of people who appear to display auditory and/or visual game-related hallucinations, and may be part of a wider repertoire of sensory consequences of video game playing that we have coined ‘game transfer phenomena’ (and which I outlined in a previous blog).

However, in a completely different context, I recently came across a really interesting 2011 case study by Dr. Amin Gadit who published a short paper in BMJ Case Reports entitled ‘Insightful hallucination: psychopathology or paranormal phenomenon?’ Dr. Gadit noted that hallucinations are usually indicative of a serious psychiatric problem (i.e., typically some kind of psychosis) and typically require treatment. However, Dr. Gadit described the case of a 26-year old successful Pakistani businessman who was suffering hallucinations but experienced a dilemma as to whether to treat him or not because his hallucinations appeared to be providing some therapeutic benefit to his patient.

The man was married to his first cousin (also from Pakistan) and was described as being “extremely close” to his mother. Dr. Gadit reported that his patient’s wife sometimes got extremely upset (which I interpreted as being jealous) about her husband’s attachment to his mother. Following the mother’s diagnosis of a terminal illness with only a few months left to live, the man (understandably given the relationship with his mother) experienced deep emotional turmoil and upset. Dr. Gadit wrote that according to his patient that:

“[His] mother told him before dying that she would remain in contact with him after death. The patient went through a complicated bereavement period when she died. However, 6 months later, he regained his cheerful mood and started taking an interest in business again. His wife noticed that he was talking to himself for at least an hour each day. When asked, he said that his mother visits him every day and he talks to her. This was his firm belief. There was no deterioration in his personality and no other features worthy of note”.

Following these episodes of speaking to his dead mother almost every night at different times in the evening, the man’s wife persuaded him to seek psychiatric help. Dr. Gadit claimed that his patient resented being in treatment and argued that the regular “contact” with his dead mother was a positive experience and made the man happy and helped bring normality to his day-to-day life. Following initial psychiatric assessment, Dr. Gadit noted that:

“There was no significant medical history or family history indicative of any mental disorder. A thorough clinical history revealed nothing except this hallucination. The patient had retained insight as he believed that this would not happen normally but in his case was a special occurrence. He attributed this to his Muslim belief of God’s blessing in sending his mother back to him in this way. His physical examination was unremarkable and all laboratory results were normal. MRI did not reveal any pathology. His mental state examination revealed normothymic mood, delusion, visual hallucination, psychosis (with no supporting evidence), intact cognitive function and reasonable insight into his problem”.

The man’s mother appeared most evenings wearing different dresses (ones that she used to wear when she was alive) but he said his mother would not allow him to touch her when she appeared. The man was adamant that his mother appeared before him in the real world and refused any medical treatment. Organ pathology (often associated with auditory hallucinations) was ruled out as a cause, and there was insufficient evidence for a diagnosis of schizophrenia (often associated with auditory hallucinations). Ultimately, Dr. Gadit did not reach a psychiatric diagnosis and he sought a second opinion (which also failed to produce a diagnosis). The lack of formal diagnosis posed a dilemma in terms managing the presenting condition. The man had monthly appointments for over half a year with Dr. Gadit but the condition remained constant. In discussing the case, Dr. Gadit wrote that:

The patient recognises the hallucination (perception without the presence of an external stimulus) as happening in the real world. It is important to differentiate true hallucination from ‘pseudo-hallucination’ and ‘imagery’. A pseudo-hallucination is an involuntary sensory experience vivid enough to be regarded as a hallucination but recognised by the patient as not the result of external stimuli; it would not be considered by the person to be ‘real’. Imagery is a collection of images used to create a sensory experience and is the element in a literary work used to evoke mental images and stimulate an emotional response. In the current case report, the patient believes that he can see and talk to his mother in the real world and that he is not imagining it”.

In discussing the case in relation to previous literature, Gadit made reference to a 2009 paper by H. Haween in the Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science (DJUS) that reported hallucinations following bereavement typically resolve over time. Such hallucinations are most commonly in reported during the grieving process in males aged 25 to 30 years. Other similar non-psychiatric illnesses include Charles Bonnet’s Syndrome (typical sufferers being the elderly) that comprises clear hallucinations experienced among visually impaired individuals. A study dating back to 1971 by Dr. W.D. Rees and published in the British Medical Journal reported ‘widowhood hallucinations’ in 14% of Welsh widows and widowers (n=293). A more recent study in a 2002 issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, a team led by Dr. L.C. Johns reported a 4% prevalence of hallucinations in white and ethnic minority populations and suggested that hallucinations are not always associated with psychotic disorders.

Gadit claimed that his male case study was “unique” as the persistent hallucinations resulted in no noticeable psychopathology, and appeared beneficial to his patient. He also speculated that the visions might be a paranormal experience or “a case of hallucinosis with a secondary delusional explanation”. Gadit claimed that paranormal phenomena are fairly common in both the developed and the developing world (and typically associated with rituals and myths).

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Gadit, A.A.M. (2011). Insightful hallucination: psychopathology or paranormal phenomenon? BMJ Case Reports 2011; doi:10.1136/bcr.10.2010.3456

Heewan K. (2009). Hallucination: a normal phenomenon? Dartmouth Journal of Undergraduate Science, November 21. Located at: http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/fall-2009/hallucination-a-normal-phenomenon

Johns, L.C., Nazroo, J.Y., Bebbington, P., et al. (2002). Occurrence of hallucinatory experiences in a community sample and ethnic variations. British Journal of Psychiatry, 180, 174-178.

Menon, G.J., Rahman, I. & Menon, SJ, et al. (2003) Complex visual hallucinations in the visually impaired: the Charles Bonnet Syndrome. Survey of Ophthalmology, 48, 58-72.

Ortiz de Gotari, A., Aronnson, K. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Game Transfer Phenomena in video game playing: A qualitative interview study. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 1(3), 15-33.
Rees, W.D. (1971). The hallucinations of widowhood. British Medical Journal, 4, 37-41.

Spence, S. A. (1993). Nintendo hallucinations: A new phenomenological entity. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 10, 98–99.