Doctors have been left baffled by a strange condition which saw a woman of 23 age 50 years in a matter of days.
8:38AM BST 14 Oct 2011
Vietnamese woman Nguyen Thi Phuong now looks like a septugenarian after the rapid aging affliction took hold following an allergic reaction to seafood.
Her sad story began in 2008, when her youthful beauty began to fade over the course of just a few days, leaving her with sagging, wrinkled skin all over her face and body.
Until now she has been forced to wear a mask in public to hide her appearance from prying eyes, but now doctors are attempting to establish what caused her sudden and horrifying aging.
Her husband, carpenter Nguyen Thanh Tuyen says his love for his once beautiful wife has not faded while Phuong, now 26, says her condition has only worsened since she was first struck with the condition.
The couple, from the Mekong Delta province of Ben Tre, in Vietnam, have agreed to talk to the media for the first time in order to ask for help.
Some have argued that the condition is lipodystrophy – a rare syndrome that 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.
The syndrome with no cure leaves its victims with loose folds of skin all over their bodies, wrinkled faces and the gaunt features of people decades their senior.
The condition is extremely rare and out of around seven billion people on the planet, only 2,000 are thought to have lipodystrophy.
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 explained she has long been allergic to seafood and that she had suffered a particularly bad reaction in 2008.
She said: “I was really itchy all over my body. I had to scratch even while sleeping.”
Phuong said she took some medicine bought at a local pharmacy instead of going to the hospital because her and her husband Tuyen, now 33, were too poor to afford it.
She said: “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.
The couple do not remember what the medicine was or which pharmacy they got it from.
Phuong said: “We considered that it was our destiny and I quit treatment in 2009. Now I always wear a face mask whenever I go out.
“The skin on my face, chest and belly have folds like an old woman who has given birth several times although I have never had a child.
“But the rapid-aging syndrome hasn’t affected my menstrual cycle, hair, teeth, eyes and mind.”
In 2010, the couple migrated to the southern province of Binh Phuoc’s Bu Dop District where they rent a small wooden house.
Tuyen continued to work as a carpenter while Phuong got a job at a cashew-nut processing factory.
Both earn a total of VND3 million – less than £92 a month – which means they cannot afford an examination at a major hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.
Tuyen said his wife’s disease has not affected his love for her or their relationship.
He said: “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.
She said: “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.”
On October 2, doctors from Nguyen Dinh Chieu Hospital in Ben Tre Province said they would examine Phuong for free and send her to the HCMC Dermatology Hospital if they failed to diagnose her condition.
Meanwhile, stories about Phuong in the local media have prompted a variety of diagnoses from local doctors. Many of them do not believe that Phuong has lipodystrophy, saying instead that Phuong may be suffering the side effects of too much steroid medication.