Koro: The Genital Shrinking Disease With A Malaysian Origin

By Medically reviewed by Panel Perubatan Hello Doktor

Have you ever woke up one morning and as you shower, you noticed something frightening about your body – your genital has shrunk! Yikes. At the back of your mind, you are also worried if it would shrink up to a point that it would eventually disappear. Perturbed, you went to the doctor and after a proper history taking, examination and relevant tests, you were told that there’s no evidence of shrinkage nor any underlying conditions that would lead to it.

A Delusional Disorder

This is a mental condition known as Koro. What’s fascinating about the name of this condition is that it was derived from a slang in the Malay word ‘kura-kura’ (Tortoise), specifically referring to the head of the tortoise. When someone suffer from Koro, their genitals don’t actually shrink, but instead, they experience the delusion as if it was shrinking which would cause anxiety and acute panic, despite no evidence of shrinking based on long term follow ups and measurement. This condition isn’t unique to male as female can suffer from Koro as well with the distinction that they believe their vulva and/or nipple is shrinking. This delusion would go on to have the sufferers believing that their genitals would shrink into their abdomen and eventually lead to death.

Koro From A Cultural Perspective

Koro is a culture-specific disorder that has existed for centuries in Asian countries particularly in South East Asia. It gained notoriety and the attention of western medicine at the fall of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century through outbreak of cases identified in Sulawesi, Indonesia. In Chinese history and civilisation, it is known as Sou Yang and the origin can be traced back to the most ancient Chinese medical textbook, Huangdi Neiching (Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal medicine), believed to have been written around 200–300 B.C., which stated that “As yang (the male genitals) retracted into the abdomen, death is inevitable.”

Koro outbreak has occurred at a scale of an epidemic in countries such as Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and the southern of China. However, there has been outbreak as well in non-asian countries such as Sudan, United States of America, Canada, France and Britain. The question on how a mental illness could become an outbreak that rival those of infectious diseases is an interesting one because mental illness isn’t infectious to begin with, so what happened?

The Mirror Neuron theory

One of the theory used to explain how Koro could become an outbreak is the mirror neuron theory. The theory is used to also explain the phenomena of mass hysteria across human history. Mirror neuron – the circuit of neuron localised to certain part of the brain, exist in human and primate and they are activated when one acts and when one observes the same action performed by another, creating resonance in the activity and condition. The resonance increases the amplitude of an act which eventually leads to a mass hysteria. The Mirror neuron theory is thought to be an important mechanism on how humans are able to imitate and learn things from others with great accuracy as well playing important role in assimilation into a new social circle.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

msBahasa Malaysia

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Review Date: February 21, 2019 | Last Modified: November 15, 2019

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