Read below about catatonia, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your catatonia from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

This symptom can also be referred to as:
Whole body not moving

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Catatonia Symptoms

Catatonia is a psychiatric condition where you experience both mental and physical non-responsiveness. You are conscious but remain silently frozen in one position. You seem unable to speak, though you may follow directions if they are given to you.

Catatonia is a rare symptom and very distressing for anyone who witnesses it, but the patient can recover with proper medication and therapy. The question often arises: What would cause this sort of behavior?

One theory is that catatonia is a primal response to overwhelming fear. Wild animals that hunt, such as wolves or big cats, find their prey by watching for it to move. Freezing into place can be a final attempt to avoid being caught by a predator. This response is still commonly seen in some small animals today, such as rabbits. It may be triggered in some humans under certain highly emotional or frightening circumstances, or during periods of chemical imbalance in the brain.

Catatonia characteristics:

  • Standing, sitting, or lying perfectly still, usually while mute and unresponsive, for long periods of time. You might adopt positions that would normally be very tiring and uncomfortable.
  • While catatonic, you may allow someone else to reposition your arms, legs, or body, and you may follow directions if asked, but you will otherwise not respond to anyone.
  • Some cases may show great excitement with a lot of movement and speaking, but none of the actions or words have anything to do with the situation at hand.

Who is most often affected by catatonia symptoms?

  • Anyone who had a severe infectious disease as a child, especially with high fever.
  • Women suffering from severe postpartum depression may show symptoms of catatonia.
  • Older people are affected more often than younger ones.

Are catatonia symptoms serious?

Catatonia can be difficult to diagnose, and if it is not correctly treated, you can suffer organ damage from the prolonged immobility and the lack of food, water, and medication. Yet there is treatment that can produce good improvement once the correct diagnosis is made. This is why anyone who shows any sign or symptoms of catatonia should see a psychiatrist or other medical provider as soon as possible.

Catatonia Causes Overview

Most common catatonia cause types:

  • Catatonia has long been associated with schizophrenia and is often present alongside it but is not necessarily caused by it.
  • Bipolar disorder.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Severe anxiety and depression.
  • Narcolepsy.

Less common catatonia cause types:

  • Brain damage from physical illnesses:

    • Inflammation of the brain from any cause.
    • Autoimmune disorders.
    • Stroke.
    • Temporal lobe epilepsy.
    • Advanced dementia.
  • Brain chemical imbalances from drug use or metabolic disturbances:

    • Severe metabolic disturbances such as very high or very low blood sugar, diabetic ketoacidosis, abnormally high calcium levels, or abnormally low sodium levels.
    • A bad reaction to prescribed medication.
    • Alcohol withdrawal.
    • Rapid benzodiazepine withdrawal. Benzodiazepines are often used in the treatment of catatonia, so it is important to maintain the dosage unless ordered to change it by the treating physician.
    • Drug abuse, especially of cocaine.
    • Drug overdose. Do not give anti-psychotic medication to someone in a catatonic state unless ordered to do so by a physician.

Rare & unusual catatonia cause types:

  • One theory states that catatonia may be an extreme form of autism, although research continues on this.
  • Some catatonia cases are idiopathic, meaning it is simply something that arises in an individual for no known cause with no other psychiatric or physical illness occurring at the same time.

2 Potential Catatonia Causes

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

  1. 1.Recurrent Depression

    Depression, once diagnosed, can often recur with new episodes. Sometimes these episodes can be similar to ones in the past, sometimes the symptoms can be different. It's good to be aware off the fact that people who had a depression before, remain vulnerable.

    Depression's course is highly variable, and it may last weeks, months, or years.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, headache, stomach bloating
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  2. 2.Depression

    Depression is a mental disorder in which a person feels constantly sad, hopeless, discouraged, and loses interest in activities and life on more days than not. These symptoms interfere with daily life, work, and friendships.

    Depression's course is highly variable, and it may last weeks, months, or years.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, headache, anxiety, irritability
    Symptoms that always occur with depression:
    depressed mood
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Catatonia Treatments and Relief

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if:

  • You see, or experience, signs of "malignant catatonia." These symptoms include very high fever, losing consciousness, irregular heartbeat, or difficulty breathing along with the signs of catatonia.
  • Of course, a person in a catatonic state will not eat, drink, or take their usual medication, so immediate steps must be taken to get them to treatment.
  • The immobility of some forms of catatonia can lead to blood clots, pulmonary embolism, and other interference with normal blood circulation.
  • Conversely, the excitement phase of some forms of catatonia can put the patient in danger of harming himself or herself, or of harming others.

FAQs About Catatonia

Here are some frequently asked questions about catatonia.

What is catatonia in autism?

Catatonia is when someone is unable to move, and is generally a symptom of an underlying medical or psychiatric disorder. It may be characterized by posturing, immobility, unresponsiveness, repetitive and purposeless movement, mutism, staring, or copying movements or words (echolalia). Catatonia is a well-known feature of autism spectrum disorder.

How common is catatonia?

Catatonia is not a very common condition. It usually happens in the context of underlying medical or psychiatric disease. Amongst patients acutely ill with psychiatric disease, approximately 10 percent will have symptoms of catatonia. However, outside of these conditions, catatonia is extremely rare.

How long does a catatonic state last?

A catatonic state may come on progressively or all of a sudden. To be diagnosed as catatonia, the catatonic state must last a minimum of two to four hours. A catatonic state may then last anywhere for a few hours to a few weeks or months and may require treatment for reversal.

Can stress cause catatonia?

A number of mental conditions can cause catatonia, including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, and delirium. It is rare for stress on its own to cause catatonia, but stress may play a significant role in one of these conditions. In combination of these disorders, it can trigger a catatonic episode.

Can drugs cause catatonia?

Yes, certain drugs can cause catatonia. Certain drugs for anesthesia and antipsychotics can lead to a state of muscle rigidity or inability to move similar but not identical to catatonia. Withdrawal from Parkinson’s disease medications or an overdose of antidepressants may also lead to a similar state. Additionally, certain antipsychotic drugs may worsen an episode of catatonia.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Catatonia

  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Are you having difficulty concentrating or thinking through daily activities?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Are you feeling irritable (easily made upset)?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our catatonia symptom checker to find out more.

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Catatonia Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced catatonia have also experienced:

    • 6% Dizziness and Light - Headedness
    • 6% Aggression
    • 6% Rib Pain on One Side
  • People who have experienced catatonia had symptoms persist for:

    • 62% Over a Month
    • 13% Less Than a Day
    • 11% Less Than a Week
  • People who have experienced catatonia were most often matched with:

    • 4% Depression
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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