Understanding Cataplexy symptoms and treatment

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Cataplexy is a condition that is often confused with epilepsy. It is a condition whereby the sufferer or cataleptic experiences a total loss of muscle control and postural tone. It is likely to be more severe when a person is tired. It is extremely unpredictable both in severity and frequency. The attacks do not necessarily have a fixed schedule, they may occur occasionally but may also occur multiple times a day.

The nature of the attacks may vary from individual to individual; while with some, it can be a perceptible slacking of the facial muscles to dropping of the jaw or head, Knee buckling, Slumping of the shoulders, or falling to the floor.

When falling to the ground, the cataleptic does not lose consciousness but simply lies without moving for a couple of minutes before resuming to normal behaviors or drifting into some prolonged sleep. Other effects may include slurred speech and blurred vision but without losing consciousness or awareness of the surroundings.

Cataplexy Causes – Situations that Induce Cataplexy

Cataplexy is a common feature of narcolepsy – thus the presence of it makes the diagnosis of narcolepsy much more certain, however, cataplexy requires separate treatment from narcolepsy. Cataplexy is caused, amongst others, by exhilaration, surprise, anger, laughter, stress, and shock. Some research has shown that it may also be caused by Yawning and Sighing.

Treatment of Cataplexy

The necessity to treat cataplexy depends on its severity. Some cataleptic people can survive throughout their lives without any form of treatment and some need treatment. For those who need treatment, antidepressant agents, tricyclic agents, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are normally used: This is because of their ability to inhibit neurological pathways that cause cataplexy.

Trycyclic agents used in some countries include hydrochloride (Anafranil). It is important to mention that an overdose of this drug can be toxic to the heart. Commonly used SSRIs include paroxetine (Seroxat) and fluoxetine (Prozac). ALWAYS SPEAK TO YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE TAKING ANY OF THE MEDICATION.

Living with cataplexy

Cataplexy can be disruptive to daily living. It can cause embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, and even detrimental consequences to the patient. Furthermore, it can impair most desired activities like driving, working out at the gym, or even holding a child because one can never know when the attack might manifest itself.

It is important that the family members or close friends of a person suffering from cataplexy be made aware of it so that they can take appropriate action during the attacks. The patient will usually have individual preferences about what the onlookers can do to “help”. Some prefer to being left alone, while others may need to be supported or helped up. It is common for the patient to prefer being left alone to recover out of their own accord.

Read more: Narcolepsy treatment

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