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What is Cotard’s syndrome?

People with Cotard’s syndrome (also called walking corpse syndrome or Cotard’s delirium) believe that they are missing body parts, or that they are dying, dead or non-existent. They may think that nothing exists.

Cotard’s syndrome is rare, with about 200 known cases worldwide.

Although the symptoms are extreme, most people improve with treatment.

En el síndrome de Cotard la persona cree estar muerta.

People with this syndrome are often much less sociable. Sometimes, they may stop talking. Some hear voices telling them they are dead or dying.

Others may refuse to eat (because, among other reasons, they see no point in being “dead”). Some may try to harm themselves.

In a well-documented case of Cotard’s syndrome that became known in 2008, a 53-year-old woman was admitted to the hospital after her family called 911. They said the woman thought she was dead and smelled like rotten fish. She also asked to be taken to a morgue because she wanted to be with dead people.

It is not clear what causes Cotard’s syndrome. We do know that it is often a symptom of a deeper medical problem affecting the brain, such as

  • Dementia
  • Encephalopathy (a disease in which a virus or toxin affects the brain’s function)
  • Epilepsy
  • Migraine
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Stroke
  • Bleeding that occurs outside the brain due to severe brain injury (your doctor may call it a subdural hemorrhage)

Some experts believe that Cotard syndrome is the result of two types of brain damage. The first changes the way people see themselves. The second causes them to continue to believe in this false view, even when it is shown to be untrue. However, not everyone agrees with this idea.

who suffers from it?

Cotard’s syndrome can occur at almost any age, although it affects many people over the age of 50. Many people who have it also have a history of mental health problems, especially

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance abuse

Most have some type of brain damage that shows up on imaging tests. The damage may come from

  • A stroke
  • A tumor
  • A blood clot
  • Injury

In addition, Cotard syndrome may be related to bipolar disorder in adolescents and young adults.


Cotard syndrome, or delirium, is a symptom of another condition, not a disease. It is not listed in the DSM, the manual used to diagnose mental health problems. The fact that it is not in the DSM means that there are no firm rules to guide doctors.

It is usually diagnosed after doctors rule out other similar disorders. One such disorder is Capgras syndrome, in which a person believes that a friend or family member has been replaced by an identical fake. Capgras syndrome is also called“imposter syndrome“.

Doctors have many ways to treat Cotard’s syndrome. The usual approach is to treat the medical problem that causes it.

Most people do best with a combination of medication and a form of talk therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or psychotherapy. Both provide a safe place for people to talk about how they feel and help them find healthier ways of thinking and acting.

The medications used to treat Cotard’s syndrome are

  • Antipsychotics
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Antidepressants

Most people need more than one type.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is another treatment option. It sends small electrical currents through the brain. This changes brain chemistry and may eliminate some mental health symptoms.

Ismael Abogado

Ismael Abogado

Psychologist and constant learner of the mind and soul.

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