Catalepsy (Causes, Symptoms & Treatment Options)

Catalepsy

This article provides a complete guide on Catalepsy; it causes and how to manage its treatment. It also sheds light on the connection of this disorder with severe sleep problems and addresses the myths surrounding this disorder. 

Catalepsy (Causes, Symptoms & Treatment Options)

Catalepsy, a condition of narcolepsy, is a condition in which a person is affected by a sudden loss of a neurological control over one’s limbs. This condition usually results from intense emotions and could cause paralysis in certain limbs. People with catalepsy are often affected by sleeping episodes during the daytime. These episodes can be short and spontaneous or even result in a deep sleep during daylight hours. 

Exactly what is Catalepsy?

Catalepsy is a disorder which affects a few million people worldwide. It is regarded as a neurological disorder and affects approximately 1 in every 2000 people. People affected by this disorder are likely to experience periods where they lose control over certain body functions. This is due to the stress placed on certain nerves that malfunction and become paralyzed temporarily. 

People with Catalepsy experience situations where they may fall asleep in the middle of the day even though they may have had enough rest at night. Another sign that you may have Catalepsy is that you will always feel tired during the daytime. You may constantly feel the need to have naps. 

I certain cases, people with catalepsy have periods where they may fall asleep in the middle of a conversation or while they are doing daily tasks. You may feel paralyzed and unable to control your body while you are falling asleep. People with catalepsy often experience these episodes during sleep or when they are experiencing pleasant emotions. 

Have you ever seen people collapsing from laughter or joy? They may freeze in a certain position, or their hands and feet may stop working. Many people may have the misconception that such people are in shock or have elliptic episodes. However, catalepsy is different from other such illnesses because it is a neurotic and psychological illness rather than a physical one. 

The Likelihood of Developing Catalepsy

Catalepsy is more likely to develop in individuals who are usually under stress or anxiety. Excessive pressure may cause you to develop many neurological disorders, one of which is catalepsy. Other psychological disorders, such as schizophrenia can also accompany catalepsy. 

People who are not active and lead a high-stress lifestyle are also at risk. If you do not exercise and are overworking, you may be susceptible to developing catalepsy. Research has indicated that catalepsy may be passed on genetically. If there’s a close relative that has the disorder, you may be vulnerable as well. 

Potential Causes

Catalepsy is usually caused by a lack of hypocretin in the brain. This is what helps keep you awake. The deficiency of this chemical can cause you to have long periods of sleep as well as irregular sleep cycles. This is also what causes you to feel tired during the day. The level of this deficiency is what determines how frequently you fall asleep. 

Another major cause is the autoimmune response system of the brain that kills brain cells that produce hypocretin. This is another major cause of hypocretin deficiency. 

Symptoms Profile of Catalepsy

Catalepsy is usually recognizable in children and adolescents. Many people might not be aware of the symptoms until they reach adulthood. After a certain age, it becomes clear that excessive sleeping might not be due to physical weakness. Instead, it is the result of a neurological illness. 

Catalepsy episodes may vary from person to person. If your brain only experiences a slight deficiency in hypocretin, then you may only experience attacks several times a year. However, some people experience attacks several times in a single day. 

Nature of these attacks also depends on the severity of the disease. Many people are only affected after experiencing strong emotions. Others may have episodes spontaneously. If you affected with catalepsy, you might experience episodes where your limbs may become paralyzed even while you are in the middle of your daily tasks. 

More specific symptoms include: 

  • Paralysis of the face- You may notice that your face gets paralyzed in a certain position. This can range from simple twitching of the face muscles to complete paralysis of the facial muscles where your face may be frozen on a certain emotion.
  • Jaw tremors- Your jaw may clutter continuously and involuntarily. This is usually not the result of exposure to the cold. 
  • Knees tremble: This is another common sign of catalepsy. You may experience this as the result of paralysis below the knees. Many people might mistake this as a sign of fear or anxiety. However, it is quite common in people with catalepsy. 
  • Another sign of catalepsy is that a person might lose the ability to speak many people with catalepsy are affected by paralysis of the facial muscles.

It is important to note that although someone may experience symptoms such as paralysis or a sleeping episode, they are usually conscious. This means that they are often aware of the fact that they are falling. This is a risk as it may cause them to hurt themselves, depending on where they fall from. 

Prevention of injury

If you are diagnosed with catalepsy, you are at risk of becoming paralyzed at any point of the day. This can be dangerous in certain situations, such as when you are driving. You may also be at risk of falling down the stairs or getting attacks in public places. Although this risk cannot be removed entirely, there are certain steps that you can take to prevent severe injuries in such situations. 

Firstly, you should identify the situation and time of the day when you are most likely to experience an attack. This could be an early morning for some people or late in the afternoon for others. You should plan your day accordingly by providing your body with sufficient rest in times when you are likely to tire out. People with catalepsy often see the benefits of taking one or two short naps in the daytime. Other safety measures include reducing the number of glass objects in your house and work area and taking extra precaution to hold the railings while going up or down the stairs. 

Lifestyle changes that help relax the brain and allow you to sleep better are also advised. You should exercise regularly to maintain a level of alertness and reduce the chances of fatigue. In addition to this, you should eat healthy foods and ensure that you get at least 8 hours of sleep every night. Research has indicated that people who get sufficient sleep during the night are less likely to experience sudden attacks during the day. 

In addition to these steps, you should also monitor your eating patterns very closely. People with catalepsy should keep their meals light as heavy meals are often a cause of excessive sleepiness. Rather than eating one heavy meal, it is better to eat several light meals throughout the day. 

If you are diagnosed with catalepsy, you should also maintain a peaceful living and working environment. Stay away from situations in which you are likely to put stress on the mind and arrange your workplace in a way that eliminates excessive sound. Your physician may recommend certain breathing exercises. These will help you stay relaxed throughout the day. 

Catalepsy (Causes, Symptoms & Treatment Options)

Possible Treatment Options

Luckily for you, catalepsy is usually manageable. Although it may not be permanently cured, some methods can help significantly reduce the symptoms. These include both physiological cures as well as medication. 

Your doctor may recommend medication if you are at risk of getting injured due to paralysis or sudden sleep episodes. Many doctors will prescribe a drug known as Sodium oxybate. This will help reduce the symptoms during the daytime. However, you must never take this drug without proper prescription as not all patients diagnosed with catalepsy should take medication. This varies from case to case. 

Antidepressants are usually used to help relax the mind and keep the symptoms in check. However, you should be aware that these medications only have short term effects. A better solution is that you try physiological methods of reducing anxiety and relaxing the mind. 

Yoga and other exercises are a great way to relax the mind without having adverse side effects. Try to spend more time outdoors where the body is more likely to be relaxed. Taking a day off from work once in a while to reduce work stress is also an effective way of limiting the symptoms. 

Catalepsy (Causes, Symptoms & Treatment Options)

Helpful resources

  1. If you are interested in understanding how people cope with catalepsy, you should consider reading “Rolling A Path:: My Narcolepsy, Skateboarding, Cataplexy and Lifestyle”.
  2. Another motivational story to inspire people with narcolepsy is “Expressions of my own ‘Narcolepsy with Cataplexy’: An onward roller coaster ride, it is.”
  3.  If you want more of the facts about narcolepsy, then you should consider reading: “Narcolepsy: A Funny Disorder That’s No Laughing Matter.” 
  4. If you are affected with narcolepsy and want to understand more about the illness, including how it affects you, “The Official Patient’s Sourcebook on Narcolepsy” is just for you. 
  5. Another good book is “Wide Awake and Dreaming: A Memoir of Narcolepsy” 

Conclusion

Catalepsy is one of the more common mental disorders. While many mental disorders have physiological causes, catalepsy is usually caused by physiological factors. Patients who are affected with cataplexy should take care not to work in stressful situations. They should also take medication on the guidance of tier physician. While catalepsy is a tricky disorder, you may manage it with a slight change in lifestyle, diet and sleep. 

FAQs

Is cataplexy a symptom of narcolepsy?

Yes. Narcolepsy is a disorder that causes weakness, sleepiness, as well as fatigue. Cataplexy involves episodes where you may feel muscle weakness. Therefore, it is categorized as a symptom of narcolepsy. 

What happens during catalepsy?

During cataplexy, you may feel weakness in your muscles and certain parts of your body may become paralyzed. Many people often experience episodes where they may fall asleep for no specific reason. 

What does it feel like to have catalepsy?

Cataplexy is not something that causes constant pain. However, you will feel signs of weakness and sleepiness throughout the day. This will persist even though you may have more than enough sleep at night. 

What causes catalepsy?

A lack of a certain chemical called hypocretin is usually the cause of cataplexy. In rare cases, medication can cause some of the symptoms present in cataplexy. In some instances, it may be caused by genetic factors as well. 

Does catalepsy hurt?

No, cataplexy in itself does not hurt, although the paralysis of certain limbs may cause you to fall or lose control over your movements at the wrong time. This often causes injuries. 

Is catalepsy a disability?

Cataplexy, in itself, is not a disability. However, in many cases, it may become a disability if it interferes with your ability to work. Many people with cataplexy are prevented from doing work, such as driving or construction. 

References

  1. catalepsy: An overview
  2. Catalepsy Complications
  3. Treatment & Prevention of catalepsy
  4. catalepsy symptoms
  5. Narcolepsy

Catalepsy (Causes, Symptoms & Treatment Options)

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behaviour, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.