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Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome: Cause, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Every day we hear of different diseases, and we have become familiar with some of them. However, there are numerous rare conditions that you have no idea of their existence. That’s why they are rare after all. This article is the first in a series that will expose you to the reality of some rare medical conditions.

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Alice in Wonderland could easily pass for one of the oldest stories that children cannot get enough of.  The motion picture even makes the journey more interesting as you get to see Alice take on the adventure to wonderland.

Many children have wished to experience the same adventures that Alice had so they can grow tall enough to catch a flying bird or shrink tiny enough to ride on an ant. Like the wise would say, “we can be anything we imagine”.

While we may want to zero the Alice in Wonderland experience to the creativity of imagination, some people actually have a condition that mimics the change in size that Alice experienced.

The rest of the world sees these people the way they are, but the victims themselves have a different view of themselves and life in general. This rare medical condition is called Alice in Wonderland syndrome.

If you are very familiar with the experiences of Alice, you would recall some of the events.  How time changes, straight lines become wavy, how she grew small enough to pass through a tiny door after sipping from a bottle that has “Drink me” written on it, and how she grew big enough to grab a key on a really tall table just after eating the cake that invited her with an “eat me” mark.

People with Alice in Wonderland syndrome do not have to eat a cake or drink of a bottle to experience their symptoms. A British psychiatrist named John Todd, named this condition in 1955 after the fictional story of Alice in Wonderland, to explain the symptoms people he treated of epilepsy and migraine headaches claimed to have experience.

The condition is also known as Todd syndrome (After Doctor Todd who named it AWS). The Todd syndrome has been discovered to affect mostly children and young adults who eventually outgrow it, but it is also possible for Adults to experience it. Symptoms can last from a few minutes to half an hour and also differ from sufferer to sufferer.

Symptoms of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

  1. Faces of real life people, or people in pictures may appear distorted
  2. A flat surface may appear sloppy
  3. Straight lines may seem to be wavy or even spiral
  4. You may feel like you just found yourself in Lilliput because everything will look to be bigger than you. This sensation is known as micropsia.
  5. The feeling of everything in your surrounding becoming way smaller than you is also a symptom. This feeling is the opposite of micropsia called macropsia.
  6. A migraine headache: Some medical practitioners believe that  AWS syndrome is  early signs of a migraine or an uncommon type of a migraine
  7. Sound distortion is also a common symptom
  8.  You may see things around you coming closer than they are, going farther, changing in sizes, colours, and positions. The feeling of objects getting larger or closer is known as pelopsia, and when you feel they are going farther or getting smaller, you are experiencing telopsia.
  9.  Flat objects may appear to be three dimensional, and the real three dimensional objects around you may look flat.
  10. You may feel like you are sinking into the ground or getting levitated from the field.
  11. Time distortion: People experiencing AWS may feel the time is running faster or slower than it is in reality.
  12. Puppet feeling: you may feel like your body is being controlled by someone or something that is not you. The inability to coordinate yourself or the feeling that your limbs are doing things without your control (Involuntary muscle movement) is possible as a result of the distorted sense of reality.
  13. Things that are static may appear to move

What could be responsible for the strange and rear feeling?  Could it be an allergic reaction, a neurological condition, or just mere hallucination?

Causes of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

The cause of the AWS is yet to ascertain, but it is believed that the Alice in Wonderland syndrome is neither a visual impairment, hallucination, nor a neurological condition and it starts at a very early stage of childhood.

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The Todd syndrome, however, is assumed to be caused by an unusual flow of blood to the part of the brain or unusual electrical activity in the part of the brain that has to do with sensory information causing a change in a victim’s perception of self about his or her environment.

Some victims of AWS were discovered to be suffering from a migraine, stress, brain tumour, an infection, epilepsy, stroke, or had an accident that caused them to hit their head, but some sufferer do not have such experiences, making it difficult to find an identifiable cause of their AWS.

Furthermore, some doctors believe that the AWS is just an aura that some people experience during or before a migraine, but it is not only restricted to these conditions. People with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression can also experience the Todd syndrome. Drugs that have dizziness as a side effect can also cause a temporary feeling of distorted reality.


If you experience any of the symptoms of the Alice in Wonderland syndrome, make an appointment with a doctor or neurologist. The medical practitioner will review your symptoms with you and suggest you run some tests.

Some of the tests that may be carried out include Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Electroencephalogram (EEG), Epstein-Barr virus test.

MRI: This is a scan that shows images of your brain using radio waves and magnets.
EGG: The purpose of this test is to measure the rate of electrical activities in your brain
Epstein- Barr virus test: This involves a lab testing of your blood sample to check for the presence of the Epstein-Barr virus.


Just as the cause of AWS is unknown, so also no cure has been found for the syndrome. However, because AWS symptoms are not harmful, it is OK just to relax and let them wear out (which will happen in a few minutes).

Your doctor might prescribe medication that can help reduce the episode of migraines. For people who are depressed, antidepressants might also be suggested. You might decide to get a new diet plan designed to help reduce the occurrence of migraine headaches.

Conclusively, AWS is not a condition to be feared and if you feel uncomfortable with its recurrence, you are advised to stay away from conditions that trigger it.

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Disclaimer: This article is purely informative & educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

Emmanuella Ekokotu
Ekokotu Emmanuella is a sociologist and Anthropologist, writer, and fashion model who lives in Benin city, Edo state,Nigeria.

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