The Walking Corpse Syndrome

Walking corpse syndrome, also called Cotard delusion, is a mental disorder where the affected person holds a delusional belief of being dead, dying, or undergoing putrefaction. The affected individual also believes that they have lost their bones, blood, and internal organs.

The most notable symptom of Cotard syndrome is the delusion of negation. Patients deny their existence, the existence of an organ, a body part such as an arm or a leg. Conversely, a statistical analysis of a cohort of patients, also revealed that they had experienced delusions of immortality.

The disease manifests itself through 3 stages, namely:

  • Germination stage
  • Blooming stage
  • Chronic stage

The germination stage is characterised by the onset of severe depression and hypochondria. Hypochondria is a condition where the patient is worried about an illness to an inordinate degree.

The blooming stage is characterised by the development of the delusion of negation. The last stage, viz., the chronic stage, is characterised by worsening of symptoms, accompanied by psychiatric depression.

The exact cause of Cotard Delusion is unknown. There are many theories, ranging from cellular anomalies in mitochondria structure to misfiring neurons in the fusiform face area of the brain. However, scientists speculate that the latter is the most plausible cause of the illness as the fusiform face area of the brain is associated with the recognition of faces.

Physical trauma to some areas of the brain can also bring about this disorder. For instance, lesions forming on the inside of the parietal lobe due to brain trauma or disease have been reported to cause Cotard Delusion.

Though the implications of this illness are frightening, treatments are available to counteract most of the symptoms. Electroconvulsive therapy, (formerly known as shock therapy) is found to be more successful than pharmacological treatments.

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