Walking Dead Syndrome and other rare conditions that baffle doctors and researchers

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Rare and odd medical syndromes are hard for many people to understand and are often hard to treat, according to medical experts

Read on to learn more about three unusual and baffling disorders.

In these three conditions, sufferers believe they are dead, suffer severe size distortions in their visual perception, or speak in a foreign language and don’t understand why or how it’s happened.

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Here’s what to know about these three conditions.

Cotard’s Syndrome or Walking Dead Syndrome

Cotard’s Syndrome, sometimes called Walking Dead Syndrome, is a relatively rare neuropsychiatric condition that was first described by Dr. Jules Cotard, a Parisian neurologist, in 1882.

That’s according to Dr. Anne Ruminjo, a second-year psychiatry resident at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, as well as Dr. Boris Mekinulov, a unit attending physician at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn.

They describe the condition in a case report published in the medical journal Psychiatry MMC.

Sufferers with Walking Dead Syndrome believe they have lost body parts or have lost their soul to the dead, according to medical specialists.
(iStock)

Cotard’s Syndrome comprises any one of “a series of delusions” stemming from a belief that a person has “lost organs, blood or body parts” or “has lost one’s soul or is dead,” the physicians note in their report.

Cases have been noticed in patients with “mood disorders, psychotic disorders, and medical conditions,” they said.

“Most cases of Cotard’s are more responsive to electroconvulsive treatment (ECT) than to pharmacological treatment,” they share in the report.

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The doctors explained a case of Cotard’s Syndrome that they were involved with as part of their work.

“Ms. L, a 53-year-old Filipino woman, was admitted to the psychiatric unit when her family called 911 because the patient was complaining that she was dead, smelled like rotting flesh and wanted to be taken to a morgue so that she could be with dead people,” the doctors reported.

“The patient was complaining that she was dead, smelled like rotting flesh and wanted to be taken to a morgue so that she could be with dead people.”

They said the patient was fearful that “paramedics” were trying to burn down the house where she was living with family members — and admitted to “hopelessness, low energy, decreased appetite and somnolence.”

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After treatment with medication during a hospital stay, the patient — during discharge, the doctors reported — “denied nihilistic or paranoid delusions and hallucinations and expressed hopefulness about her future and a desire to participate in psychiatric follow-up care.”

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AIWS) is a set of symptoms that produce an “alteration of body image,” reported Dr. Anne Weissenstein, Dr. Elisabeth Luchter and Dr. Stefan Bittmann of the Pediatric Mind Institute in Gronau, Germany, in a report published in the Journal of Pediatric Neurosciences.

“An alteration of visual perception is found in that way that the sizes of body parts or sizes of external objects are perceived incorrectly.”

“An alteration of visual perception is found in [the] way that the sizes of body parts or sizes of external objects are perceived incorrectly,” the doctors noted.

They added, “The most common perceptions [occur] at night.”

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome sufferers sometimes experience severe distortions in size perception, similar to that of fabled character Alice in Wonderland.

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome sufferers sometimes experience severe distortions in size perception, similar to that of fabled character Alice in Wonderland.
(iStock)

While all causes of AIWS cases are “still not known exactly,” the physicians shared that some causes are “typical migraine, temporal lobe epilepsy, brain tumors and psychoactive drugs and Epstein-Barr virus infections.”

AIWS has no effective treatment, they noted.

Treatment plans consist of migraine prophylaxis (medication) and migraine diet, they reported.

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“Chronic cases of AIWS do exist,” they also pointed out. 

Foreign Accent Syndrome

Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) is a speech disorder that causes a sudden change in spoken words, causing the sufferer to be perceived as speaking with a “foreign” accent, according to the University of Texas at the Callier Center in Dallas.

The center treats thousands of patients with a variety of hearing, language and speech disorders, according to its web page.

Foreign Accent Syndrome sufferers speak in what sounds like a foreign accent. The condition is most often caused by brain damage, doctors say.

Foreign Accent Syndrome sufferers speak in what sounds like a foreign accent. The condition is most often caused by brain damage, doctors say.
(iStock)

FAS is most often caused by brain damage due to “a stroke or traumatic brain injury,” the center indicates.  

“Other causes have also been reported, including multiple sclerosis and conversion disorder — and in some cases no clear cause has been identified.”

Speech may be “altered in terms of timing, intonation and tongue placement,” the center explains, “so that is perceived as sounding foreign.”

“Remarkably, the brain damage had altered her melody of language, and she spoke with a German-like accent.”

However, a sufferer’s speech remains “highly intelligible” and does not “necessarily sound disordered,” the center also notes.  

FAS has been documented in cases around the world, the same source indicates, including accent changes from “Japanese to Korean, British English to French, American English to British English and Spanish to Hungarian.”

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In perhaps the most well-known case of FAS, a 28-year-old woman was hit on the head by a bomb fragment after British bombers attacked Oslo, Norway, on Sept. 6, 1941.

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, Walking Dead Syndrome and Foreign Accent Syndrome are rare medical conditions that can be hard to treat, doctors say.

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, Walking Dead Syndrome and Foreign Accent Syndrome are rare medical conditions that can be hard to treat, doctors say.
(iStock)

The particular case is shared in a medical abstract by Dr. Erland Hem, adjunct professor in the Department of Behavioral Medicine at University of Oslo, Norway, and published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

She was “seriously wounded” with a “large defect in the cranium frontally on the left side” — and doctors did not think she was not going to live. 

“The brain damage altered her melody of language and she spoke with a German-like accent.” 

After being unconscious for three to four days, she then awoke — and had “right-sided hemiplegia and complete aphasia,” the medical abstract indicates.

“She gradually recovered and two months later she was discharged from hospital,” the same source says. 

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“Remarkably, the brain damage had altered her melody of language and she spoke with a German-like accent.” 

“This led to problems for her during the war: she was, for example, not served in shops.”

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The case story was published after the war by the Norwegian neurologist Georg Herman Monrad-Krohn.

It is the best-known case of Foreign Accent Syndrome, the abstract notes.

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