It’s a classic horror movie trope: A person receives a hand transplant from a deranged killer, only to take on the dead donor’s murderous characteristics.
Fortunately, such a terrifying tale is relegated to ghost stories — but there’s a real medical condition that could make you feel like your hand is indeed possessed. Known as alien hand syndrome, this rare but troubling problem can cause your hand to move on its own.
Out of Control: Symptoms of Alien Hand Syndrome
In alien hand syndrome, your hand moves without you being aware of what’s happening or being able to control it.
You might find yourself reaching for something, moving objects, or making gestures without wanting to do so. You might even have to use your other hand to restrain yourself from moving. According to one recent news report, some people with alien hand syndrome even slap and punch themselves against their will. Although it’s less common, a related disorder called alien limb phenomena can cause legs to move on their own.
What Causes Alien Hand Syndrome?
Despite the movements involved with alien hand syndrome, it isn’t technically a movement disorder. Instead, it appears to occur as the result of some type of neurological damage. Common causes include:
- Various neurodegenerative diseases
Although rare, it’s also possible to develop alien hand syndrome after brain surgery (to treat epilepsy, for example) or even during a severe migraine headache.
A Helping Hand: Treatment Options for Alien Hand
Physicians have known about alien hand syndrome for more than a century, but it remains a challenging condition to treat.
There’s some evidence that benzodiazepine medications and injections of botulinum toxin (BOTOX®) may help relieve symptoms. Behavioral strategies such as patient and caregiver education, coaching techniques, a distraction of the affected hand, and cognitive behavioral therapy may also help.
It may seem like the stuff of science fiction, but for a small group of patients, alien hand syndrome is all too real. Learning about this rare disorder can help you better understand the challenges of people who have it.
Learn more by visiting the UPMC Neurology Services webpage.