What Are the Symptoms of Walking Corpse Syndrome?

Reviewed on 8/3/2020

What Is Walking Corpse Syndrome?

Walking corpse or Cotard syndrome is a rare mental disorder in which the patient believes they are dead or parts of their body are missing.
Walking corpse or Cotard syndrome is a rare mental disorder in which the patient believes they are dead or parts of their body are missing.

Walking corpse syndrome (also called Cotard's syndrome or Cotard's delusion) is a rare neuropsychiatric condition in which patients believe parts of their body are missing, or that they are dying, dead, or don’t exist. It is usually a symptom of another psychiatric condition rather than a disease on its own.

There are only about 200 known cases of walking corpse syndrome worldwide.

What Are Symptoms of Walking Corpse Syndrome?

Symptoms of walking corpse syndrome (Cotard's syndrome or Cotard's delusion) include:

  • Delusions one is dying, dead, or no longer exists
  • Severe depression or sadness (melancholia)
  • Insensitivity to pain
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Patients stop speaking
  • Refusal to eat (patients may believe there is no reason to do so because they are convinced they are dead or dying) which may result in nutritional deficiencies 
  • Hearing voices that say the patient is dead or dying
  • Attempts to self-harm
  • Ideas of damnation or rejection
  • Delusions of immortality

What Causes Walking Corpse Syndrome?

The cause of walking corpse syndrome (Cotard's syndrome) is unknown. 

It is most commonly seen in patients with severe depression and it can be a symptom of other medical conditions that affect the brain, such as:

How Is Walking Corpse Syndrome Diagnosed?

Walking corpse syndrome (Cotard's syndrome) is usually a symptom of another psychiatric condition, rather than a disease on its own. It is usually a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning doctors rule out other possible illnesses before making a diagnosis of walking corpse syndrome.

What Is the Treatment for Walking Corpse Syndrome?

The primary way to treat walking corpse syndrome (Cotard's syndrome) is to treat the underlying medical condition that causes it. Patients usually receive medication and therapy. 

Medications used to treat walking corpse syndrome include:

Therapies include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or psychotherapy. 

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be used as a last resort when medications and talk therapy do not work. 

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Reviewed on 8/3/2020
References
Medscape Medical Reference
National Institutes of Health