What is catatonia? Catatonia is a series of disorders that are defined as a state of motor immobility or muscular disturbances. It is a rare condition often associated with schizophrenia and depression, although it can also be caused by other conditions.
What are the symptoms of catatonia?
Catatonic features can be symptomatic of a number of different conditions, including schizophrenia and depression, but there are a number of different sub-types of the disorder. Catatonia seen in patients diagnosed with schizophrenia can present in many different forms. These include:
Catatonic stupor: the patient will exhibit abnormally slow motor activity, or may even become completely immobile, to the point where they appear to be unaware of what is going on around them and are non-reactive to any external stimuli.
Catalepsy: the patient is motionless, and remains that way for weeks, months, or even years.
Catatonic rigidity: the patient stays in a rigid position and despite all efforts to make them move, will not change position.
Catatonic posturing: the patient exhibits inappropriate postures. For example, they might hold one arm out and refuse to put the arm down, despite being repeatedly asked to do so.
Waxy flexibility: the patient can be moved into different postures, rather like a plastic doll.
Catatonic excitement: the patient exhibits random and agitated movements. Such individuals are often extremely hyperactive, but their extreme activity lacks any purpose, and if left untreated, the patient will soon reach a state of exhaustion.
Malignant catatonia: this type of catatonia is at the extreme end of the scale and causes the patient to become extremely excited, delirious, feverish, and unstable. It can be fatal if left untreated.
What is catatonia and what role does it play in depression?
Bipolar patients can sometimes exhibit the symptoms of catatonia at certain times during their illness. Catatonic excitement characterised by random movements and extremely hyperactive behaviour can occur during the manic phases of bipolar disorder whereas catatonic stupor occur during the depressive cycle of the illness
Can catatonia be caused by other medical conditions?
The symptoms of catatonia can sometimes be seen in patients suffering from medical conditions, including strokes, encephalitis, drug overdoses, and metabolic disturbances. Unlike catatonia exhibited by psychiatric patients, this type of catatonia will be cured as soon as the underlying condition is treated. Patients will also have a much greater awareness of their symptoms, which is not true of patients suffering from schizophrenia or depression related catatonia.
What is the treatment for catatonia?
The treatment for catatonia will depend on the cause. Schizophrenics or depressives showing the symptoms of catatonia will be treated with a mixture of drugs and psychotherapy, and may even be hospitalized if they are considered to be in danger.
Benzodiazapines have been shown to help relieve the symptoms of catatonia and an initial dose can normally cause a marked improvement within a very short space of time. As such, benzodiazepines are also used to verify that catatonia is the cause of the patient’s symptoms. Electroconvulsive therapy can also be an effective treatment for the symptoms of catatonia.
Antipsychotics are sometimes used to treat the effects of catatonia, but they should be prescribed with extreme caution as the drugs can cause the catatonic symptoms to dramatically worsen, particularly in the case of young people with autism.