CATALEPSY: What is it, symptoms, causes and treatment

  • Jul 26, 2021
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Catalepsy: what is it, symptoms, causes and treatment

The dictionary of the Spanish language defines catalepsy as “sudden nervous accident, of the hysterical, what suspends the sensations and immobilizes the body in any position that is place ”. But what do we know about this disorder? And why has it caused terror throughout history?

In Psychology-Online, we update you on this strange disease, in which it seems that the person in this state has died and, nevertheless, is still alive. Read on to find out what is catalepsy, its symptoms, causes and treatment.

You may also like: Catatonic schizophrenia: what it is, symptoms, causes and treatment


  1. What is catalepsy
  2. Catalepsy symptoms
  3. Causes of catalepsy
  4. Treatment of catalepsy

What is catalepsy.

Catalepsy is a central nervous system disorder characterized by loss of body mobility and sensation. The person who presents it suffers a body paralysis, the muscles become hardened and tense so that he is unable to make any movement. Also, it seems that the sensitivity to pain is reduced.

Breathing and pulse slow down and the skin loses color. Therefore, the condition of the subject is similar to that of a deceased and can create confusion if the symptoms are not known. In fact, throughout history there have been cases of people buried alive when they have suffered an attack of catalepsy.

The most curious thing about the cataleptic state is that, although the subject does not respond to stimuli or manage to move, he is aware of everything that happens because he can see and hear it.

For all the above, catalepsy has been known as "apparent death”And has caused terror for many years. So much so that for around 40 years the fear of being buried alive spread. So, to prevent that from happening, they created the so-called "security coffins." These coffins had an alarm system composed of a rope inside the coffin, within reach of the deceased, connected to a bell or flag that was placed outside so that the person in charge of the cemetery in question could see and hear it. The catalepsy could last several days and without the means we have now, there could be errors in the diagnosis of death. If it was the case of waking up inside the coffin, the supposed corpse could pull the rope and ring the bell or raise the flag, allowing it to be unearthed, saving his life.

Even these days, there are some people of a certain age who fear that something similar could happen to them. However, the reality is that it is not a serious disorder, who suffers from it can recover normally once the condition is identified. In addition, thanks to the great advances in science in general and in medicine in particular, a misdiagnosis of death is almost impossible. In a short time, you can check for activity in both the brain and the heart.

Catalepsy symptoms.

Catalepsy has occurred in healthy people without any other disease. Therefore, it is important to know the catalepsy symptoms to differentiate it from fainting or death:

  • Rigidity.
  • Loss of control over the limbs and muscles in general.
  • Inability to respond to stimuli.
  • Pallor.
  • Decreased breathing and heart rate.
  • Insensitivity to pain.
  • Waxy flexibility: if a limb moves, it stays in that position.

Causes of catalepsy.

More than a disease in itself, catalepsy it is a symptom of some pathology of the nervous system how can he be Parkinson's.

On the other hand, it is related to disorders such as schizophrenia, the epilepsy and severe pictures of psychosis.

It is also characteristic of patients undergoing rehabilitation treatment for alcohol or cocaine consumption, as part of the withdrawal syndrome.

There are some circumstances that, as with other conditions, increase the probability of experiencing catalepsy:

  • Going through a major depression.
  • Sleep apnea
  • Experiencing very intense emotions (extreme emotional shock).
  • The obesity.

Treatment of catalepsy.

When a case of catalepsy occurs, it is important that a professional makes an urgent evaluation of the patient's condition taking into account counting the symptoms that you present and checking if there is activity in the body with tests such as the electroencephalogram and the electrocardiogram. First, to rule out death, and then to find out what the disease or disorder is behind it.

As we saw before, catalepsy is not a disease in itself, therefore, does not have a specific treatment. The treatments administered will be for the disease that caused the episode.

If the main disease is related to the nervous system, such as Parkinson's and epilepsy, the muscle relaxants they are beneficial as has been proven.

When the main diagnosis has to do with disorders related to mental health such as schizophrenia, psychosis, etc., the recommended treatment includes the administration of antipsychotics and psychotherapy sessions.

This article is merely informative, in Psychology-Online we do not have the power to make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment. We invite you to go to a psychologist to treat your particular case.

If you want to read more articles similar to Catalepsy: what is it, symptoms, causes and treatment, we recommend that you enter our category of Clinical psychology.


  • American Psychiatric Association (1995). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV). Barcelona: MASSON
  • American Psychiatric Association (2014). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) (Fifth Edition). Madrid: Editorial Médica Panamericana.

Catalepsy: what is it, symptoms, causes and treatment

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