What is cataplexy?

Cataplexyis defined as the second most recurrent symptom againstnarcolepsy, where an imbalance occurs in the person between the inhibitory and excitatory systems, usually after an emotional stimulus, causing atemporary reduction in muscle tone. (1)

Fun fact: The wordcataplexycomes from a Greek that means “to bring down”, which translated to the sudden loss of muscle mass presented by patients withnarcolepsy, which was taking shape with the description of the disorder, which is the temporaryloss of musclestrength when facing strong emotions such as laughter, anger or embarrassment.

Causes of cataplexy

The causes that trigger these episodes can be varied, so they will be exposed and described below, facilitating their identification and understanding.

Hormone deficiency

Ahormonal deficiencyof orexin or hypocretin, leads in the person to the appearanceof cataplexy picturesbecause these hormones are those that fulfill fundamental roles in our body, such as maintaining alertness and wakefulness.

Intense emotions

These episodes are usually brief, and motivated the individual to facesudden strong emotions. Theseemotionsinclude: shame, anger, laughter, fear, among others.

Important: There is research that shows that exposure to emotions of this type automatically causes adecrease in muscle tone, but clearly, due to certain conditions, in cataplexy the degree of severity is increased. (2)

Brain tumors

One of the reasons for cataplexy is theinhibition of certain neuronswith motor functions along the spinal cord.

Note: Abrain tumorcan be the trigger for this situation, losing control of the muscles and also being possible an alteration in hormone levels as a result of these malformations.

Injuries and malformations

Injuries to the head or spine may be sufficient reason to triggerepisodes of cataplexydue to the reasons stated above.

Even malformations, considered tumors in both areas, lead to muscle weakness described in this disorder.

Vascular accidents

There is a registry of patients withvascular accidents, who subsequently present an alteration in the organism characterized by including cataplexy.

This is because the vascular accident produces direct damage to those neurons that are responsible for the hormones that produceorexin(3)

Brain infections

Brain infections are closely linked to the appearance of disorders of this type, precisely due to problems in thecerebrospinal fluid, which can influence the production of differenttypes of hormonesand excessive sleepiness that lead to episodes.

Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is a disease that affects theCentral Nervous Systemand producessleep disorders, so narcolepsy is present and therefore cataplexy pictures. It is sporadic but quite characteristic due to the influence of correct hormone production.

Genetic factors

The percentage of transmission from father to child is 1%, so it is not considered entirely hereditary. (4)

Even so,genetic factorsproduce the coding and functionality of the organism, so they can determine if there are sleep disorders or conditions that influence the presence of cataplexy pictures.

Symptoms of cataplexy

Cataplexy is characterized by presenting certain elements or symptoms that determine its presence. These will be mentioned and explained below for your understanding.

Muscle weakness

The muscles relax and weaken abruptly, being the main feature of this disorder. It can be motivated by suddenstrong emotionsor genetic and hormonal elements.

Transient body paralysis

It is a symptom of severity, occurring within aperiod of 20 to 30 seconds. It involves an involuntary relaxation of the jaw, knees, and subsequently body paralysis.


In the general definition of the characterization of cataplexy,excessive sleepinessand sleep abnormality are presented, interrupted or recognized as fragmented.

Note: There are even other types of disorders such as night terror, insomnia, sleepwalking, which influences the feeling of fatigue and tiredness during the day.

Visual problems

Sometimesauditory hallucinationsand particular visual discomfort are involved, especially presenting a decrease in the ability to move eyes. It occurs in isolated episodes.

Note: It is important to note that cataplexy does not worsen, but it does usually last a lifetime as long as narcolepsy is present as a disorder in the individual.

Treatment for cataplexy

The treatments applied for cataplexy are quite linked and oriented towardsthe control of narcolepsy. They will be mentioned and described below.

Prescription drugs

Thedrugsare oriented in a treatment against the symptoms of narcolepsy, making control over them since there is no definitive cure prescription for the disorder. It only focuses on improving andmaintaining the patient’s quality of lifeand sleep.

Important: Treatments for cataplexy are reflected in their long-term effectiveness with treatment periods of up to 24 months, with a reduction of between 49 and 69%. (5)

Psychological therapy

The guidance for the identification of the symptoms, helps to prevent the severity of cataplexy pictures, due to the reduction of risks and the ability to have the application of an inhibitor that helpsto reduce the duration of the pictureor in fact topreventit from happening.

Note: There aregroup therapiesthanks to which there is a greater understanding of what cataplexy is about and how to live with it, including the change that the patient’s life must have.

Healthy sleep and rest habits

The respect of sleepschedulesfrom children,correct restand the use of naps to reduce sleepiness during the day, will allow the creation and maintenanceof sleep habits and restsor healthy that give the person a higher quality of life.

Key Findings

  • Cataplexyis a symptom that occurs in a disorder known asnarcolepsy.
  • It is understood as theweakening of the musclesabruptly motivated by exposure to sudden strong emotions.
  • The periods of cataplexy can vary between 20 and 30 seconds or minutes, adding to that possible temporary paralysis of the body.
  • Treatments help the production of hormones necessary for the prevention and reduction of drowsiness that cataplexy brings.
  • It is a disease that does not progress, that is, it does not worsen over time, but it still does not have a definitive cure, only treatments that reduce symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life.

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