Oregon woman wakes up from surgery with British accent

HealthDiseases and IllnessesMultiple Sclerosis

When Karen Butler, of Newport, Oregon, woke up from oral surgery a year and a half ago, she looked just like her old self, albeit with some swelling in her cheeks. But when she opened her mouth to speak, it was with someone else's voice— in a thick British accent.

“I sounded like I was from Transylvania,” she said to The Oregonian.

Over time, Butler’s accent softened slightly, but it never returned to her native northwestern lilt.

Eventually, doctors diagnosed Butler with foreign accent syndrome, a rare neurological disease that has only been documented about 60 times since the 1900s.  

Usually caused by a stroke, foreign accent syndrome has also been associated with multiple sclerosis, head injuries and migraines.  But according to linguists, the accents developed by people with foreign accent syndrome aren’t pure. They tend to change and flux depending on how people pronounce different sounds.

"What happens with foreign accent syndrome to the best of our understanding is that a very, very small part of the speech area is affected so that the normal intonation of speech gets altered," said Dr. Ted Lowenkopf, medical director of the Providence Stroke Center.

The oddest thing about Butler’s voice transformation is that she doesn’t even hear her new accent, unless she watches it on video.

Alien hand syndrome is another neurological disorder in which patients lose control over the movements of one of their hands. They often feel as if their hand is being controlled by an outside source, and are unable to stop it from performing complex acts, such as unbuttoning items of clothing. Patients are also unaware of the actions taken by their ‘alien hand,’ until the movements are pointed out to them.  The condition generally emerges in the aftermath of a stroke, surgery or infection.

Patients affected by Cotard’s Syndrome believe that they are dead or non-existent. They may also be under the impression that their body is decomposing or that they have lost their blood or internal organs. In some cases sufferers of Cotard’s Syndrome may experience delusions of immortality. It is thought that Cotard’s Syndrome is the result of a disconnect between the part of the brain that recognizes faces and the areas that associate emotion with visual cues.

Piblokto or Arctic Hysteria is a neurological disorder that only occurs within Eskimo societies living in the Arctic Circle. Piblokto generally rears its head in winter months and sufferers exhibit a wide-range of symptoms, including hysterical screaming and uncontrolled wild behavior, depression, eating fecal matter, insensitivity to extreme cold and the nonsensical repetition of overheard words. It is thought that Piblokto may be linked to vitamin A poisoning, as similar symptoms have been observed in Westerners with vitamin A toxicity.

Stendhal Syndrome is a psychosomatic illness in which victims experience rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusions and sometimes even hallucinations after being exposed to objects of extreme beauty. The syndrome is commonly experienced when an individual is exposed to particularly beautiful or numerous works of art, and was first identified in Florence. It also sometimes manifests when people are confronted with immense natural beauty in the outdoors.

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