What is catalepsy

Catalepsy is a disorder that prevents people from moving due to muscle stiffness, however, the senses and vital functions continue to function, and can take from a few minutes to hours, and in rare cases it can even last for a few days.

There are stories of people who were buried alive during a cataleptic state, which today would be impossible, since there are devices that detect vital functions, such as the electroencephalogram and the electrocardiogram.

Catalepsy can be:

  • Pathological catalepsy, in which the person has muscle stiffness and cannot move, looking like a statue. This disorder causes a lot of suffering, because the person has the same ability to hear and see everything around him, he just cannot react physically. These people can be mistaken for a corpse, due to the similarity of the symptoms to therigor mortis, also called cadaveric stiffness, which occurs after the death of a person due to a chemical change in the muscles that causes them to harden.
  • Projective catalepsy, also known as sleep paralysis, is a disorder that occurs just after waking up or when trying to fall asleep and that prevents the body from moving, even when the mind is awake. Thus, the person wakes up but cannot move, causing anguish, fear and terror. Learn more about sleep paralysis.

Possible causes

It is not clear what causes pathological catalepsy, but it is thought that it can be induced by some neuroleptic drugs, genetic predisposition combined with serious neurological problems such as hysteria, mental weakness or depression. In addition, it is thought that it may be caused by head injuries, congenital malformation of a brain region, schizophrenia or epilepsy.

Projective catalepsy happens because during sleep the brain relaxes all the muscles in the body, keeping them immobile so that energy can be conserved and avoid sudden movements during dreams. However, when a communication problem between the brain and the body occurs during sleep, the brain may take time to return movement to the body, leaving the person paralyzed.

What symptoms

The signs and symptoms that can occur during a catalepsy crisis are paralysis of the body, muscular stiffness, limbs that are in the same position they are moved to, anguish, fear, inability to move the eyes, inability to speak, feeling of lack of air, anguish, fear, feeling of falling or floating over the body, auditory hallucinations such as hearing voices and sounds that do not exist and a feeling of drowning.

How the treatment is done

Treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms and the duration of the episodes, but a good option to avoid these attacks is to maintain a regular and peaceful sleep. Antidepressants or hypnotics such as anafranil or clomipramine, for example, may also be prescribed by the doctor and psychotherapy sessions may be associated.

In addition, the administration of muscle relaxant medications can be effective in some people with catalepsy, who avoid the state of total immobility.