What is Cataplexy? Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Some people experience the neurological condition of losing control over their muscles either temporarily or permanently. Today, we’ll discuss what is cataplexy; its symptoms, causes, and treatment.

What is Cataplexy? 

Cataplexy is a condition of losing control over your muscles suddenly, start limping, and it weakens your body significantly without any warning. You would experience the cataplectic condition while feeling the emotionally strong sensations. It comprises angry feelings, laughing, or crying. You would feel like falling over or losing control over your facial expressions.

The cataplectic condition has got associated with narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is a mental condition that causes a strong sleeping episode during the day. However, it comprises of falling into sleep unexpectedly in the middle of a discussion or performing any type of activity.

Some people experience the cataplectic episodes just once or twice in their lifetime. The others would experience its symptoms roundabout 20 or 30 times a day. Usually, one episode lasts for a minute and goes away.

Good and negative emotions like fear, stress, anger, frustration, pleasant surprises, joking, and laughter would trigger the cataplexy. When something triggers the cataplectic episode, you would experience the weakness building up in the relevant muscles for a few seconds before it fully kicks in.

Symptoms of Cataplexy 

The symptoms of cataplexia are different for different people. Many people begin to observe its episodes and symptoms as a young adults or as a teenager. Especially, when you go to college, university, workplace, or any other stressful environment. Some of the main symptoms of cataplexia episodes are as follows;

  • Muscles twitching around your body without any cause or warning
  • The body would start falling to the ground
  • Head falling to the side because of the weakened neck muscles
  • Jaw-dropping
  • Dropping eyelids

In severe cases, people often mistake cataplexia with seizures. Unlike seizures, you would remain conscious and remember everything that happens in the episodes of cataplexia. The length of the cataplectic episode would range from a few seconds to a few minutes. Usually, the cataplectic episode would occur when you’re experiencing strong emotions like;

  • Laughter
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Stress
  • Happiness
  • Excitement

The trigger points of cataplectic episodes are different for various people; they aren’t consistent. Laugher would cause cataplectic episodes among some people and not others. Angry feelings would trigger the cataplectic episode in the other type of people, but not laugher or others.

The cataplectic episodes are the main symptoms that would occur among people with the narcoleptic condition. Often, it exhibits in the form of muscle abnormality like weakened neck muscles would cause the head to fall and dropping eyelids. Resultantly, you won’t know whether it’s narcolepsy or cataplexy.

Causes of Cataplexy 

If a person is experiencing narcoleptic with cataplectic symptoms, then it suggests that their brain is producing a sufficient amount of hypocretin (orexin). Hypocretin is a chemical in the brain that keeps you awake and controls your REM (rapid eye movement) and manages your sleep cycle. However, other areas of the brain that manages the sleep cycle plays a significant role in causing the cataplectic and narcoleptic symptoms.

Some of the other causes and risk factors that would develop the cataplectic condition are as follows;

  • Infections like swine flue (H1N1 virus)
  • An autoimmune condition would make your immune system destroy the cells comprising hypocretin
  • Growth or tumor near the areas of the brain that manages the sleep cycle
  • Brain injuries or trauma

If a person has a narcoleptic condition, then it is highly likely that they would experience the symptoms of cataplexia. It is important to mention here that not everyone with a narcoleptic condition would exhibit the symptoms of cataplexy.

Diagnosis of Cataplexy 

In order to diagnose the cataplectic condition, your doctor would suggest the following tests;

  • Complete physical examination of your body in order to rule out other medications, and to make sure that its symptoms aren’t overlapping with other conditions
  • Written evaluation tests in order to know your sleep pattern and habits and observe the severity of the symptoms of the narcoleptic condition
  • A Polysomnogram study would track the activity of your brain muscles while sleeping
  • Various sleep latency tests observe the short naps that you take throughout the day to observe how quickly you go to sleep

Treatment of Cataplexy

The treatment plan for cataplexy comprises medication and changes in the lifestyle.


Speaking of medication for narcolepsy or cataplexy, they don’t cure the condition. They only help you to manage the severity of the symptoms, and they’re as follows;

  • Sodium oxybate (Xyrem)
  • SSRIs
  • Antidepressants like Venlafaxine or fluoxetine
  • Tricyclic antidepressant
  • Amphetamine that keeps your attention and alert
  • Modafinil to lower the drowsiness

The side effects of the medicines are as follows;

  • Changes in the mood
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Nervousness

Lifestyle Changes

Living a healthy lifestyle, eating healthy food, avoiding drinking and alcohol, and performing exercises would help you to manage the symptoms of cataplexy and narcolepsy.

Conclusion: What is Cataplexy? Symptoms, Causes, Treatment 

After an in-depth study of what is cataplexy; its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment; we have realized that cataplexia could badly disturb your life. If you’re experiencing its symptoms, then you should discuss it with your doctor as soon as you can.