12 Conditions Worse than Canker Sores

If there’s one thing all people who get canker sores share – besides the mind-numbing pain, of course – is the feeling that they’ve been dealt a bad hand.  That they’ve been cursed.  Given a bad lot in life.

It’s understandable.  After all, we’re talking about open sores in the mouth. Painful, swollen sores that seem to never go away and keep coming back over and over again, making it difficult to eat, talk, sleep, or even function normally.

Yeah… sounds like a curse to me.

But the truth is, our bodies are capable of far worse things than recurring mouth ulcers. When you think about the millions upon millions of processes and proteins and enzymes and functions that take place in our bodies every minute of every day, it’s truly a miracle that things don’t go wrong in our bodies more often.

And that’s a good thing.  Because when things do go wrong, it’s a freaking mess.

So, in an effort to make you feel a little better about the freaking mess in your mouth, I present to you 12 conditions worse than canker sores.

(Note: this post contains photos of medical conditions that some readers may find disturbing)


1. Moebius Syndrome

A disease worse than canker sores

Imagine not being able to express yourself.  Not with words, but with your face.  Not being able to smile at the sight of a loved one, or furrow your eyebrows when you don’t understand something.  Imagine if nobody could ever tell if you were unhappy or uncomfortable, if they took offense because you didn’t laugh at their jokes, if they didn’t know when you were hurt, or scared, or needed a hug.  80% of human communication is nonverbal. And you’re unable to do any of it.

This is the reality of Moebius Syndrome.

Moebius Syndrome is a genetic disorder that causes paralysis of the facial muscles, leaving the sufferer unable to express themselves normally.  The facial muscle paralysis usually interferes with mouth function, inhibiting their ability to eat and speak normally.  It also causes their mouths to hang open, exposing their teeth to the air, which often leads to dental problems.  Another common symptom is a lack of movement in their eyes.

While overly positive people would say an expressionless face is just the ultimate protection against wrinkles, or the status quo for supermodels and Victoria Beckham, the reality is that people with Moebius are often unfairly ostracized by others who take their blank faces for being unfeeling, disturbing, or dumb, even though their cognitive abilities are unaffected by the disease.

While there is no cure for the condition, there are surgeries to correct some of the symptoms, and those with Moebius can generally lead long, productive lives.


2. Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome

Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome is worse than canker sores

You get recurrent ulcers in the mouth.  That’s a bummer.  But at least your ulcers don’t, you know, come flying out of your mouth uncontrollably.

Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome is exactly what it sounds like – a condition that causes people to vomit uncontrollably, seemingly for no reason whatsoever.  It starts between the ages of 3-7 and while it often goes away in your teens, it can persist into adulthood.

Sufferers of the disease go into vomiting attacks that cause them to vomit or retch 6 to 12 times AN HOUR.  And these episodes last an average of 41 hours at a time, though it’s not unheard of for attacks to last weeks and even months.

The cause of this torturous condition is unknown, but researchers believe that it is related to migraines, as many sufferers report light, smell, and even pressure sensitivity during episodes.


3. Exploding Head Syndrome

Exploding Head Syndrome is worse than canker sores

From the movie “Scanners”.

Exploding Head Syndrome is named after what happens to you when you realize there’s a condition called EXPLODING HEAD SYNDROME.

Luckily, it’s not what it sounds like.  But it’s still pretty awful.

Imagine if every time you lay down to go to sleep, just as your mind shuts off and you start to drift into blissful unconsciousness, someone fires off a 44 Magnum right next to your head.  That’s what happens to people with exploding head syndrome.

Victims of this condition report a deafening explosion that seems to come from directly inside their heads at the moment of sleep.  It doesn’t usually create a headache, but the obvious shock causes shortness of breath, an extreme rise in blood pressure, and in the worst cases, heart palpitations.

It’s also related to extreme stress and fatigue, so count that as another reason to keep your stress levels under control.


4. Tree Bark Skin Disorder

Tree Bark Skin Disorder is worse than canker sores.

If you’ve never heard of this condition, you clearly don’t watch as much Discovery Channel as I do.

Tree Bark Skin Disorder (formally known as Epidermodysplasia verruciformis – I’ll stick with tree bark) is a condition where a genetic mutation makes the person especially susceptible to human papillomaviruses (HPV) of the skin.  The uncontrolled HPV infections result in an overgrowth of scaly macules and warts all over the body, especially on the hands and feet.  These scaly growths over time have the appearance of tree limbs growing out of the skin, hence the name.

There is no cure besides surgery to remove the warts, though some drugs do help the body to fight off the HPV viruses.

Easily the most famous case of the disease was a man from Indonesia named Dede Koswara who was known locally as the “Tree Man”.  His story was picked up by The Discovery Channel, who shot an episode on him for their show, “My Shocking Story” during which they paid for him to have surgery in which doctors removed 16 lbs of warts from his body.

Unfortunately, even though they removed 95% of the warts from his body, they eventually grew back, and doctors believe he will require major surgery every 2 years to keep the growths at bay.

The only good news about Tree Bark Skin Disorder is that it is not fatal.  And… Having a pretty bird make a nest in you could be kind-of fun.

So far, we’ve dealt with conditions that are, like canker sores, inconveniences at best.  But we’re just getting started.


5. Stiff Person Syndrome

Stiff Person Syndrome is worst than canker sores

“Stiffy” jokes aside, Stiff Person Syndrome is a little-understood and debilitating condition in which the body frequently erupts into spasms where the muscles lock up and freeze the person in a position for a short amount of time.  The spasms can be so severe that it can cause muscles to tear and bones to break.

In the beginning, it comes in fits and starts, but over time as the condition progresses, limbs become shakier and less stable, and walking becomes difficult.  Eventually, the person becomes unable to feed and clothe themselves before being confined to a wheelchair.

It’s the unpredictability of the disease that can be the most challenging.  One minute, you’re having drinks with friends at a bar, the next you’re on the floor, your arms frozen in front of you, unable to move.  And forget about being able to drive.

Muscle relaxants have been shown to help control the attacks, but nothing has been effective in slowing the progression of the disease.


6. Stone Man Syndrome

Stone Man Syndrome is worse than canker sores

If being a stiff person is bad, being a stone man is a nightmare.

Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, sometimes called Stone Man Syndrome, is a condition that causes connective tissues, including ligaments, tendons, and muscles, to ossify when they become damaged.  Ossification is the process of body tissue turning into bone.

Did you catch all of that?  It turns your muscles into FREAKING BONE.

It turns out that there’s a gene in fetuses that triggers ossification to make the bones grow, but usually shuts off after all the bones have been created.  In people with FOP, this gene fails to switch off and continues working, creating new bone throughout their lives.

The first signs are usually found before the age of 10.  In most cases, the bones grow from the top down, starting at the neck and eventually getting into the feet.  Over time, joints fuse together, making mobility impossible and incredibly painful.

Perhaps the worst part of the disease?  Any kind of surgery or attempt to remove the growths of bone only make the condition worse, because the body will repair itself by creating more bone.

Try complaining to these guys about how much it hurts to eat vinegar and salt potato chips.


7. Porphyria

Porphyria is worse than canker sores

This disease is so bad that some believe that it was the original inspiration for vampire myths.  Yeah.  That’s what you call a monstrous disease.

Porphyria has been around for hundreds of years, and is caused by an overproduction of porphyrins, organic compounds that are essential for cellular metabolism, but are toxic in high amounts.  There are two types of porphyrias, one that affects the nervous system, leading to abdominal pain, vomiting, muscle fatigue, and mental disturbances, the other affecting the skin, which causes it to become necrotic, especially following sun exposure.  The skin necrosis is especially advanced around the eyelids and lips, usually exposing the teeth.

Many with Porphyria also grow hair on their face and forehead.  And garlic seems to make some of the conditions worse.

So, mentally disturbed skinny people with exposed teeth and widow’s peaks who avoid garlic because it worsens their blood issues that only go out at night.

Well… At least they don’t sparkle.


8. Proteus Syndrome

Proteus Syndrome is worse than canker sores.

Arguably the most famous case of physical deformity in history is the case of Joseph Merrick – The Elephant Man.  Merrick was plagued with bone growths and tumors over random parts of his body, including his skull, arms, legs, and torso.  While Proteus Syndrome was only recently given a name – it was coined in 1976 – many believe that Joseph Merrick was a classic example of the disease.

Proteus Syndrome causes bone and tumor growths to form in asymmetrical areas of the body.  Mutations in stem cells while still in the embryonic phase cause organs and tissues that eventually form from those original cells to be susceptible to Protean growth, which means that one hand may be overgrown and deformed, while the other hand is perfectly normal.

Whichever body part switches on and grows, it continues to do so for the rest of the sufferer’s life.  While surgeries can remove some masses, over time the growths can impede with organ function.  Some people suffer mental issues as bony growths and tumors infiltrate the brain.  Overgrown limbs suffer ulcerated lesions that can become septic and require amputation.  Most Proteus sufferers do not reach old age.

Merrick, for example, died at 27 years old.  While he normally slept sitting up because of his deformities, he tried to sleep laying down flat, and the weight of his head dislocated his neck.


9. Progeria

Again, this one is nothing new to anybody who watches Discovery Channel.

Progeria is a disease that is so bizarre and so easy to spot that it’s become very well known even though it’s very rare.  It is a disease that causes the body to age exponentially fast, essentially creating elderly children.

Symptoms start to appear in infancy, but become more pronounced as the child ages.  The skull becomes misshaped, usually quite bulbous above the eyes, with a tiny jaw and pinched nose.  They have almost no body fat and build little muscle, and their height is stunted, rarely reaching 4 feet tall.  And all Progeria patients have alopecia, or a lack of hair, all over their bodies.

There’s a reason why they’ve been cast as aliens in several movies.

As they enter their teen years, many Progeria patients begin to have the type of heath problems most people only see in their 70s and 80s.  Arteriosclerosis and other heart-related conditions mean that open heart surgery is common among Progeria patients.

Most pass away in their mid-late teens.  The oldest ever Progeria patient died in 1985 at the age of 29.


10. Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB)

Epidermolysis Bullosa is worse than canker sores

The leading foundation for EB, named DEBRA, calls Epidermolysis Bullosa, “The worst disease you’ve never heard of.”

Allow me to explain how utterly, horrifyingly true this statement really is.

EB is a condition in which the skin and underlying tissues form severe blisters when any pressure is applied to it.  Literally, at the slightest touch, the skin blisters as if it were scalded with superheated steam.  To shake an EB patient’s hand is the same as dunking it in a pot of boiling water.

This is a condition that begins at birth.  Babies with EB are literally covered from head to toe in bloody blisters that open them to all sorts of infections that often become necrotic, forcing amputations of digits and limbs.  Sometimes the fingers simply fuse together as anytime you move the fingers it causes blistering.

The disease was brought to light in the extraordinary documentary, “The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off“.  The subject was an EB sufferer named Jonny Kennedy, who was dying of skin cancer, which is common among EB sufferers.  In one scene in the movie, it showed his mother changing the bandages that cover almost his entire body.  The amount of pain he was suffering during this procedure is something I could only imagine, as the process of changing his bandages literally peeled his skin off along with it.  Anybody who can watch that scene and not shed a tear (both for him and his mother) is a robot.

Jonny actually died during filming, and at 36, was one of the oldest survivors of the disease.


11. Huntington’s Disease

Huntington's Disease is worse than canker sores.

ALS, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Parkinson’s Disease are some of the most feared and dreaded diseases known to man.  Take the worst parts of all three of them, throw them into a bowl and add a dash of delirium, and you’ve got Huntington’s Disease.

It usually starts in the mid-30s with mild personality disorders such as irritability and compulsive behavior, but soon physically manifests itself as spastic, uncontrollable movements.  The physical deterioration continues with some body parts becoming paralyzed while other body parts can’t stop shaking.  They eventually lose the ability to swallow or cough.  Meanwhile, the cognitive effects result in memory loss and eventually, complete senility.

Perhaps the worst thing about this disease is that it is genetic, so anybody who has the unfortunate experience of watching their parents go through this has the added agony of knowing what will eventually happen to them.

Most patients die within 20 years of diagnosis. The leading cause of death is pneumonia.  The second is heart disease.  But perhaps the third leading cause of death amongst Huntington’s cases is the most telling:



12. Stepping on a Lego

Stepping on a lego is worse than a canker sore

I mean, have you ever done that?  WORST. PAIN. EVER.

So, next time you’re having trouble enjoying your favorite meal because of that canker sore in your mouth, before you go all righteous and denounce God for cursing you like Job, just remember…

You could be unable to express any emotion. Or throw up 12 times an hour. Or hear explosions every time you try to sleep. Or get tree limbs growing out of your face. Or totally freeze in place at random times.  Or have your muscles turn to stone. Or be a living vampire.  Or the Elephant Man.  Or a 90-year old toddler.  Or have all your skin fall off.  Or live your entire life knowing that eventually your body and mind will both completely fall apart on you. Or you could have just STEPPED ON A LEGO!

And be just a little bit happier.

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