Catalepsy: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Complications, Treatment and Prevention

It is a nervous disorder characterized by immobility and muscle stiffness, along with a decreased sensitivity to pain.

In hypnosis, catalepsy refers to a state of muscular rigidity, usually of a part of the body, such as an arm, induced by the hypnotist in the patient. In the latter sense, catalepsy is often used as a test before further hypnosis.

As a nervous condition, catalepsy is a symptom of a number of disorders, including:

  • Parkinson’s disease.
  • Epilepsy.
  • Schizophrenia.
  • Cocaine withdrawal.
  • Sleep apnea
  • The obesity.
  • The Depression.
  • The emotional shock.

It can also be a side effect of antipsychotic medications used to treat schizophrenia. Catalepsy is also a possible side effect of septoplasty, a surgery performed to straighten the septum, the cartilage that separates the nostrils.

Catalepsy is a rare disorder. Cataleptic attacks appear suddenly, and can last from several minutes to several days, and for weeks in extreme cases.

They are often accompanied by a lack of senses in the patient, although not always. A cataleptic patient is often unable to move or speak at all.

Before catalepsy was better understood by medicine, cataleptics were sometimes buried alive in the belief that they were dead.

The cases of catalepsy that they revived when they were buried and dug their way out of the grave may have helped give rise to legends of vampires and other reptiles.

Caleptic states have also historically been confused with other trance states, such as those induced by meditation or hypnosis.

The word catalepsy comes from the Greek for “down” and “to take advantage,” reflecting ancient beliefs that the cataleptic was being taken over by some supernatural entity.

Causes of catalepsy

It must be said that catalepsy is not considered a separate disease. Catatonic stupor attacks, which are characterized by blocking movements, lack of speech activity, increased stiffness of the muscles (hypertension) are a characteristic syndrome of mental disorders.

They can be seen in patients with schizophrenia, with hysterical attacks and some other pathological conditions.

Catalepsy can also be seen in people with a neurological diagnosis of narcolepsy.

This pathology belongs to the category of hypersomnia, when a person in broad daylight is more sleepy, and there are episodes of falling asleep suddenly during normal activities.

Catalepsy in this case is considered one of the manifestations of narcolepsy.

Catalepsy can be the result of organic lesions and brain lesions with violation of neural connections.

It is clear that conditions similar to cataleptic seizures can be observed in patients with Parkinson’s disease, resulting from inadequate treatment of encephalitis.

All the moments described above speak of catalepsy as a disease. In fact, such inhibition episodes were recorded even in the case of other psychotic disorders, which are generally not inherent in this symptom.

The cause of this condition was not the disease itself, but its improper treatment.

This is an overdose of psychotropic drugs, in particular neuroleptics (Haloperidol, Triftazin, etc.), blocking the synthesis of the neurotransmitter dopamine (the hormone responsible for human activity and stimulating activity, which a person enjoys).

But the fact that the state of catalepsy can be observed with some pathologies and the introduction of a high dose of antipsychotics do not explain in any way the reasons for its appearance.

Doctors have not been able to accurately answer the question: why is there such a strange attack in the form of a “short circuit” in humans?

So far, scientists are considering two basic theories of the development of catalepsy.

One is based on the fact that the state of inhibition can be caused by neurological disorders, which is confirmed by the phenomenon of narcolepsy.

Another is looking for the reasons for the incomprehensible stupor in the mental factors, because often the attack begins in a context of vivid emotions and experiences.

Sometimes you can see how hysterics are replaced by a strong stupor, at the end of which the person continues to experience the same emotional arousal, as if an invisible switch was hidden inside. In this case, catalepsy seems like a protective reaction of the psyche.


The combined effect of neurological and psychological causes should probably be considered in the pathogenesis of catalepsy, but no one has yet tested this theory.

Experience shows that risk factors for cataleptic attacks can be considered: some mental and neurological disorders, organic brain diseases, the use of neuroleptics in high doses and even some psychological techniques.

Catalepsy symptoms

The clinical picture of pure catalepsy (empty catatonia) is reduced to a sudden immobilization of the patient’s body, while his muscles become unusually hard or resemble wax, in which there are traces of pressure from the fingers.

A feeling of sudden death is created, although during listening a slight breathing and pulse can be heard, which, as it were, also slows down along with motor reactions, but to a lesser extent.

Breathing becomes more rare, and the frequency of palpitations decreases, which are felt in the form of a pulse.

It must be said that monitoring a person in a state of catalepsy is not a pleasant experience.

A gaze fixed on a single point, the absence of eyelid movements, blinking, facial expressions and any other movement are characteristic features of a cataleptic attack, which can terrify the observer, since it seems that the person died suddenly.

The symptoms described can be called the first signs of catalepsy, although they are also characteristic of catatonia, a deeper disorder that includes not only impaired motor activity: the catatonic stupor characteristic of catalepsy or excitement.

Another characteristic of catalepsy is that in a state of forced stupor, a person’s sensitivity to any stimulus decreases.

This explains how, in the rigid cataleptic state, a fairly heavy human body can rest on objects with a fairly sharp surface, but does not feel any pain at the same time.

The same applies to internal stimuli. While the patient is in a stupor state, he is not subject to feelings of shame, fear, etc., which would force him to take some kind of action.

He resignedly allows her to perform various manipulations with his body, to give him any pose, even those in which a person usually experiences great discomfort or pain.

Scientists associate the state of catalepsy with the greater suggestibility of a particular individual. This may explain why not all patients with schizophrenia, narcolepsy and other pathologies, in which catatonic stupor can be observed, can remain in a similar state.

Greater suggestibility may also explain the presence in some cases of catalepsy of other symptoms.

Without thinking, the repetition of the same words that are heard from another person appears, according to the principle of echoes (in psychiatry such a state is commonly known as echolalia).

A mechanical repetition of someone else’s phrases (schizophrenia).

If there is resistance to external actions, the patient begins to act opposite to those about which he is asked, or monotonously repeats the movements of other people, then it makes sense to speak not of catalepsy, but of catatonia.

The attack of catalepsy is a complete immobilization of the body, or rather, a condition in which there is no control over the change in the position of the body, so the patient cannot change even the position that is uncomfortable for him.

Despite the stupor, the patients maintain a fairly good balance. Usually a stupor does not arise from scratch.

It is preceded by strong emotional and even hysterical experiences, during which a person can actively gesticulate, make different movements, change posture.

But at some point his body seems to be off, and he maintains this static posture until the end of the attack, no matter how uncomfortable it is.

For example, the patient may freeze, leaning forward, but he will not fall (unless, of course, he is pushed).

The most interesting thing is that during a paroxysm, which is not really instantaneous, since it gradually spreads from the muscles of the neck and hands to the tips of the toes, a person can hear the words and see everything that happens.

However, being able to consciously respond to actions, committed to it, is not in force.

It is true that some patients, especially with narcolepsy, during catatonic stupor plunge into a state that resembles a dream and even a dream, which in many ways is reminiscent of hallucinations.

With catalepsy, the sensitivity of the body is so reduced that a person does not react to changes in thermal characteristics and pain.

When the effect of an attack ends, the sensitivity of the legs returns first, and then gradually and the whole body, up to the head. All body functions return to normal, which seemed barely perceptible during the attack, as if the person were between life and death.

Another thing is that one can never foresee how long the cataleptic attack will last, unless, of course, it is caused by hypnosis. In the latter case, the duration of the condition is monitored by the doctor conducting the hypnosis session.

If catalepsy arose naturally in the context of strong experiences, its duration will remain a mystery.

In most cases, it is about a few minutes, after which the patient recurs, usually experiencing quite strong nervous excitement, performing affective movements, etc. But there are cases when catalepsy persists for a longer period.

A person can be in a state of numbness not for an hour or two, but for a day or even a week or a month, then return to normal life.

Diagnosis of catalepsy

Catalepsy is a completely unexplored condition, which, however, should not be left without medical assistance. And not only because such attacks can be dangerous for the patient and the people around him.

Another important reason to get to the bottom of the phenomenon is the fact that catalepsy in natural conditions does not arise by itself, but is evidence of mental disorders that require special correction until someone is harmed.

It is clear that any diagnosis begins with an examination of the patient and communication with him, during which the doctor discovers the patient’s symptoms and sensations.

Since the scientists did not agree on the general opinion, what causes are decisive in the development of catalepsy: mental or neurological, the patient is necessarily examined by two doctors: a psychiatrist and a neurologist.

Catalepsy is often one of the syndromes of serious mental disorders. For example, in schizophrenia or hysteria, a productive dialogue between doctor and patient may not occur.

In this case, they resort to the help of the patient’s relatives who will be able to know how the attacks begin, how they manifest themselves, what precedes them, etc.

Since catalepsy can be caused by the action of psychotropic drugs or intoxication, a laboratory blood test is mandatory.

A general and biochemical blood test is done as standard, and a test is done for AIDS and syphilis. If a bacterial infection is suspected (and can cause brain damage with different consequences), a study is carried out to identify the causative agent of the disease.

In addition, the level of sugar and thyroid hormones is determined. If a drug is suspected of producing a catalepsy-like condition, a special urinalysis is performed.

It is clear that the tests themselves give very little information about the causes of catalepsy, because mental and neurological disorders cannot be diagnosed in this way.

More information can be obtained by computer or MRI of the brain, spinal tap, cerebral vessel angiography, and other instrumental studies.

Complications and consequences

Catalepsy is an uncharacteristic state in which you lose control over your own body without ceasing to be conscious. Virtually all body functions slow down, but still don’t stop. Heart stopped and slower, but pumps blood.

Respiration, although it becomes less frequent, is preserved, not allowing the brain to die from hypoxia.

After an attack, a person can return to normal life.

It turns out that catalepsy in itself as a pathological condition does not pose a danger to the body. Not for nothing psychologists and psychotherapists actively practice hypnotic practices with their participation.

But despite the fact that on the patient’s health and the subsequent work of the brain, catalepsy is practically not reflected (apparently for the static position of the body the slow functioning of the body’s systems is enough).

It is difficult to imagine the consequences that can arise if a driver, who is very angry with someone, suddenly “disconnects” in a fit of strong emotional experiences.

Even having seen the obstacle ahead (and it can be both an object and a person), you cannot do anything to prevent an accident, because your body will be immobilized and out of the control of the mind. The only advantage in this situation will be only a high pain threshold.

In general, patients with catalepsy need constant supervision. They must be protected from dangers and problems that can affect a person’s mental state.

But sometimes it is so difficult to do, because from the outside, the repeated unusual stupor can be perceived as an object of ridicule.

Particularly cruel in this sense are children and adolescents who do not understand the complexity of the situation and the impact on their psyche of their mockery and mockery (and many will find it extremely fun to change the poses and expression of a person with catalepsy, doing them cause laughter).

After the end of the attack, it is desirable that next to the patient there was someone who can restrain the affective impulses, pacify the unusual excitement of the patient without aggressive mechanical effect.

Treatment of catalepsy

We have already said that we should not consider catalepsy as a separate disease. It is rather a symptom of individual mental and neurological pathologies, the treatment of which must be addressed first.

Treating catalepsy without revealing its causes is pointless.

Depending on the cause of catalepsy, its treatment is carried out in psychiatric hospitals, psychological centers or in neurology.

But in any case, the treatment scheme includes special psychotherapeutic techniques. One of the most promising areas for psychotherapists considers the method of interactive images, based on imaginative thinking.

It should be borne in mind that catalepsy can be a manifestation of various diseases, so treatment approaches may differ markedly.

If the seizures are caused by strong emotional experiences, stabilization of the patient’s psyche will be necessary with the help of psychotherapeutic sessions, as well as the use of sedatives, tranquilizers and other psychotropic medications, depending on the diagnosis.

Catalepsy as one of the manifestations of catatonia requires complex treatment with the use of sedatives, benzodiazepines, antiglutamate drugs, electroconvulsive therapy, antipsychotics (they are used with great care).

In treating catalepsy as a symptom of narcolepsy, improving the quality of sleep comes to the fore. At night, these patients are prescribed sleeping pills and stimulant preparations that help combat drowsiness during the day.

The use of tricyclic antidepressants in narcolepsy helps reduce the likelihood of cataleptic attacks and sleep paralysis.

Medical procedures must necessarily be supported by the care of relatives, who should monitor the emotional state of the patient, not allow strong experiences, protect him from criminals and ridicule him from the outside.

Ideally, a person with cataleptic attacks should always be supervised. This will protect you from many problems (intimidation, trauma, tragedy), because the moment of the beginning of the cataleptic attack cannot be calculated.

If a person has had such an attack and it has been persisting, you need to understand that before you are a living person that you have certain physiological needs. A living organism cannot exist without food and food.

It is also clear that feeding a person in a motor stupor is possible only by means of a tube or an infusion of fluids and solutions, which must be done in a hospital.

When a person recovers, it is better to see his native people next to him, who will act soothingly in an excited psyche. Later, a psychotherapist and a psychologist should work with the patient.

Whatever it is, and the treatment of catalepsy is a long road to recovery, established by an experienced doctor, taking into account the clinical picture of the underlying diseases and the causes of motor stupor attacks.


The prevention of catalepsy is mainly the treatment of diseases that cause such an unusual symptom.

As well as the stabilization of his psycho-emotional state by normalizing the regime of the day with enough time to rest, apply various relaxation techniques, practice yoga, etc. It will help to avoid hysteria and severe shocks, followed by a habitual attack of catalepsy.

Catalepsy is a syndrome that people eventually learned to treat as a disease, rather than seeing it as the machinations of the devil. However, patients often become the object of ridicule and ridicule from strangers.

But no one is immune from disease, and people are often not to blame in their pathology. Probably, it is time not only to recognize the disease, but also to learn to treat sick people with a sufficient amount of sympathy and understanding, and not to show your ignorance and primitive instincts.


We must immediately say that the prognosis of catalepsy treatment depends entirely on the cause of the occurrence of such an unusual condition, the severity of the disease causing cataleptic seizures, timely access to the doctor for help and the effectiveness of therapeutic measures. prescribed by the doctor.

The emotional background of the patient during treatment and during seizures plays a significant role in the prognosis of recovery.

When a person is in a cataleptic stupor, he remains conscious, sees everything, listens and understands, therefore, the discussion of his state must be carried out with extreme caution, without ridicule, antipathy, rudeness, which causes additional trauma, which it only slows down the healing process, it does not become the cause of an attack.

If a person stiffens in an awkward position, do not abruptly try to strike a pose, more decent in your opinion.

This brings unnecessary worries to the patient. A person feels an attitude towards himself, because he is not in an unconscious state.

When the change in posture is carried out for the benefit of the patient in a gentle and precise way to sit comfortably or position it, the patient takes it as self-care and calms down.