Throughout history, conjoined twins have fascinated people around the world. Mainly, people want to know what it's like being a conjoined twin. Most people can't imagine what it's like living day in, day out, attached to your sibling. Most of us can barely stand being around our brothers and sisters for more than a couple days; how do these extraordinary individuals live their entire lives literally attached at the hip... or waist, or head?
While conjoined twins were introduced to pop culture mostly through "freak shows," conjoined twins today lead relatively normal lives. So, if you have questions about what it's like living attached to a sibling - and what that can mean for someone's physical, mental, and emotional well-being - you're in the right place.
The term “Siamese twins” is not considered an acceptable way to describe conjoined twins. But, for nearly two hundred years, it was the go-to phrase.
The term traces back to a couple of the most famous conjoined twins in history. Eng and Chang Bunker were born in Siam (present-day Thailand) in 1811. They were attached at the chest and shared a liver. The term "Siamese twins" is a direct reference to the Bunker brothers, who rose to fame as a side-show attraction in an international traveling circus and used the phrase to market themselves. The twins later settled in the United States and became wealthy businessmen.
There are over a dozen classifications for conjoined twins based on where the siblings are connected. The most common form of conjoined twins are thoracopagus twins. These twins are joined in the upper chest and share a heart, which makes separation nearly impossible. These twins make up around 37% of conjoined twins.
The second most common type is omphalopagus. They are connected from the middle of the chest to the belly button area, but do not share a heart. They can share a liver and even genitalia, though. Omphalopagus twins make up about 30% of all conjoined twins.
Craniopagus is one of the rarest type of conjoined twinning. Craniopagus twins are conjoined at the skull. Out of all conjoined twins, only 2% are born this way.
While conjoined twins may share some organs, they can rarely feel what the other twin is feeling. In the case of sharing a stomach, they may both experience the effects of what the other ate, but that’s about as far as it goes. But there are two very special craniopagus twins who can actually read each other’s minds and even see through each other’s eyes. Tatiana and Krista Hogan of Canada are attached at the head in a way that makes separation impossible.
Doctors have determined they are attached at the thalamus through a "thalamic bridge." The thalamus is the part of the brain which transmits sensory information, regulates consciousness, and controls motor function. Tatiana can see out of both of Krista’s eyes, while Krista can only see out of one of Tatiana’s eyes. The girls also say they can carry on conversations in their head.
When you’re physically attached to your sibling, mobility can be a problem. But Abby and Brittany Hensel, a set of omalaphagus twins, get around just fine.
The twins appear to share one body, but they have their own heart, spine, lungs, and stomach. They control the limbs on their side of the body and they’ve gotten very good at coordinating. Abby controls everything on the right, while Brittany controls everything on the left. They're so good at this balance, in fact, they can even drive a car - though they have two separate licenses.