A 26-year-old Vietnamese woman, Nguyen Thi Phuong, claims that her startling transformation into a much older woman may have come about because of an extreme allergy to seafood: "I was really itchy all over my body. I had to scratch even while sleeping."
Phuong says she developed her puffy face and sagging skin in 2008, but was too poor to seek treatment. Earlier this month, doctors said they would examine her free of charge.
Phuong’s husband, Thanh Tuyen, insists the story is true and his love has not faded for his once-beautiful wife.
She has always worn a mask in public to hide her appearance from prying eyes, but sought help from doctors to see if they can reverse the aging effect.
Displaying photos of a beautiful 21-year-old woman on her wedding day in 2006, Phuong said: "Five years ago, I was rather pretty and not so ugly like this, right?"
Phuong said she took some medicine bought at a local pharmacy instead of going to the hospital because she and her husband Tuyen, now 33, were too poor to afford it: "After one month of taking the drugs, I became less itchy but hives remained on my skin."
"Then I switched to traditional medicine and all the hives disappeared, together with my itching. However, my skin began to sag and fold."
Phuong then took another kind of traditional medicine to treat her rapid-aging skin problem, but to no avail.
Doctors say it may have been the long-term use of traditional medicines that caused the condition as they are often spiked with corticoids. These steroids speed up the effects of the unregulated remedies, but could also have triggered the rare skin disease mastocytosis, where the body produces too many mast cells.
Her condition may be what is called "lipodystrophy," a rare syndrome which causes a layer of fatty tissue beneath the surface of the skin to disintegrate while the skin itself continues to grow at a startling pace. It has no cure and leaves victims with loose folds of skin on their bodies as well as wrinkled faces and features of people much hold.
Or she may have "Cushing’s Syndrome," which can be triggered if a person has very high levels of a hormone called "cortisol" in their blood. Common symptoms include weight gain, rounding of the face due to deposits of fat developing there and thinning of the skin.
Tuyen said his wife's disease has not affected his love for her or their relationship: "I married Phuong when she was a beautiful woman. I have followed her through her disease and have never been shocked at all. It's not easy to talk about one's own marital affairs. Just simply understand that I still love her very much."
Phuong said her husband's love is the reason she is able to persevere in the face of adversity: "He still loves me like before despite the fact that I look old and ugly. With him, I feel more confident to live and work."
Dr. Hoang Van Minh from the Ho Chi Minh City Medicine and Pharmacy University Hospital claims Phuong could regain some of her previous beauty with medical treatment.
Dr. Hoang visited Phuong this week at her house in the Mekong Delta province of Ben Tre where he said it was likely she did have mastocytosis. He said Phuong's face still swells and she is itchy with frequent diarrhea, common signs of the disease.
There is currently no cure, but there are many medicines to help treat its symptoms. He added that his treatment plan could restore between 50-70 percent of her skin to normal and laser therapy could reduce the folds. Dr. Hoang said there should be more tests to verify his initial diagnosis and find any other diseases she might have.
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