(ORDO NEWS) — In a 2013 interview with New Scientist, a man named Graham described feeling like his brain was dying. We’ve all been lethargic on Friday afternoons or so exhausted after a long day that we’ve lost our ability to think straight.
But Graham felt as if his life had lost all meaning, could hardly speak, and also strangely lost his sense of smell and taste. His body was alive, but he felt like he was dead. Unable to enjoy something as small as a cigarette, he even began visiting the local cemetery, where he felt more comfortable among the dead.
At the neurologist’s office, doctors discovered that most of Graham’s brain was actually in a vegetative state, as if he was under anesthesia or asleep. This case is not the only one that describes this phenomenon, officially called the walking corpse syndrome, or Cotard’s syndrome.
According to Scientific American, the first person to be diagnosed with Cotard’s Syndrome was a Parisian woman, referred to in the scientific literature for confidentiality purposes as Mademoiselle X.
Many of the mental illnesses we are familiar with today, such as depression, can cause patients to experience feelings of despair or self-loathing. But the patient Mademoiselle X in 1880 had a deep conviction that her body did not exist.
She was convinced that she would go to hell, but she could not die. Instead, she was doomed to exist in this world, with no attraction to the world of the living. In fact, she later starved to death.
Jules Cotard, the French psychiatrist who handled the case, was at that time a great mind in the field of consciousness research. Through his work with Mademoiselle X, the diagnosis was formally described in his namesake.
Cotard’s syndrome occurs when damage forms in certain areas of the brain that cloud the patient’s perception.
In particular, the areas of the brain that recognize faces and process emotions are effectively shut down, resulting in extreme apathy and nihilism. Sometimes corpse walking syndrome can occur as a symptom of severe depression and is often characterized as a form of delusion or psychosis.
In many cases, the delusion that the patient is a walking corpse stems from a real place. For example, Graham, the subject of the New Scientist article, experienced an attack of Cotard’s syndrome after a suicide attempt.
One of the earliest reported cases involved a man who crashed his motorcycle in a near-fatal accident. In another case, a man was convinced that he was dead because he constantly felt someone prick his chest wall, when in fact he had a swelling in the same place that was causing him pain.
Although the condition has been around for almost two centuries, scientists continue to learn more about it. In 2013, researchers found that a drug commonly used to treat colds was associated with Cotard’s syndrome, although the correlation was small.
Using a large sample of hospital data, they found that eight patients who took the drug began to develop corpse walking syndrome, including one woman who was admitted to the hospital in hysterics, convinced that her limbs did not belong to her and that she was a walker. dead body.
However, the good news for these patients who took the cold drug was that they no longer felt like corpses and regained the sense of their body after stopping the drug. Researchers believe that what separates people from developing the disease is rooted in genetics and may be triggered by external factors such as medication.
The average age of people with Cotard’s syndrome is 50 years, but there have been cases of the disease among adolescents. In general, this disease is more common in people with other mental disorders such as bipolar depression and depression.
In a 2011 review of the condition in the journal Neuropsychiatry, almost 90% of cases were in people with depression. However, corpse walking syndrome is very rare, with about 200 reported cases worldwide, according to WebMD.
The incidence of Cotard’s syndrome does decrease over time, probably because in the 19th century many people with psychosis or depression were labeled as suffering from Cotard’s syndrome, when in fact they had one of the mental illnesses with which we are more familiar today. The syndrome is also more common in people with other neurological conditions such as migraine, dementia, and epilepsy.
Cotard’s syndrome is not the easiest disorder to treat. However, doctors may use antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs to reduce the psychotic episodes and hallucinations associated with corpse walking syndrome.
While this disorder is uncommon, and a bit otherworldly to imagine that someone actually believes they are dead, these patients are at high risk for mental health problems and self-harm.
In one 2021 study, one patient developed Cotard’s delusion after recovering from COVID-19. The so-called “long COVID” is a persistent condition following a COVID-19 infection that can lead to fatigue, “brain fog” and ongoing loss of smell or taste.
As with Cotard syndrome, much is still unknown about long-term COVID. But it’s kind of logical that the two diseases could be linked, not just with physical symptoms like loss of taste and smell, but also with a mysterious clouding of the brain that prevents a person from fully experiencing life as we know it – a persistent sensation. that the brain is dead.
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