Catalepsy: What it is, types, causes and treatment


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Catalepsy is a type of disorder, where the person cannot move the muscles due to stiffness. For this reason they will not be able to move the limbs, the head and they will also be unable to speak. However, all the other senses and vital organs will continue to function properly, therefore it is not a cause for extreme panic and anxiety.

This condition usually lasts just a few minutes but it can continue for several hours in rarer cases. For this reason there are stories of people who have been buried alive when there are still in the cataleptic state. However, nowadays that is impossible since there are devices that detect whether some vital organs are still functioning. Some of these devices include electroencephalogram and electrocardiogram.

Main types and causes of catalepsy

Catalepsy can be divided into two main types:

  • Pathological catalepsy: This is where the person experiences muscle stiffness and they end up looking like a stature. This disorder presents a lot of suffering to the individual because they can see and hear everything happening around them but they cannot physically react. These type of people can be confused with a corpse due the similarity in the characteristics, including rigor mortis, which is also referred to as cadaveric stiffness. It is a phenomenon that occurs after death.
  • Projective catalepsy: This is also known as sleep paralysis. It is a type of disorder that occur the moment you wake up or when you are trying to fall asleep. It usually prevents the body from moving even though the mind is awake. Therefore, the person is awake but they cannot move, thus causing anguish, fear and terror.
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The cause of pathological catalepsy is still not known. However, it is though to be induced by some neuroleptic drugs, genetic predisposition that is combined with severe neurological problems such as depression. It may also be as a result of head trauma, congenital malformation of the brain, schizophrenia or epilepsy.

Projective catalepsy occurs during sleep because at this time, the brain relaxes all the muscles in the body, making them immobile so that there will be no energy to cause sudden movements during dreams. However, when there is a communication problem between the brain and the body during sleep, the brain will take time before it returns the normal movements of the body, leaving the affected individual paralyzed.

What are the symptoms

The signs and symptoms that may occur during a catalepsy crisis are:

  • Complete paralysis of the body
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Inability to move eyes
  • Inability to speak
  • Feeling shortness of breath

In addition to these symptoms, because catalepsy is an extremely distressing situation, the person may experience a lot of fear and panic as well as development of auditory hallucinations such as hearing voices and sounds that do not exist.

How treatment is done

Treatment usually depends on the severity of the symptoms and the duration of the episodes. A good way to avoid these seizures is to maintain a regular and peaceful sleep. Antidepressants or hypnotics such as anafranil or clomipramine can be used and also psychotherapy sessions may also be prescribed by the physician.

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Moreover, administration of muscle relaxant medications can be effective for some people who have catalepsy. These will help in avoiding a complete state of immobility.


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Cornelius A.

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