Harvard Mental Health Letter

Ask the doctor: What is catatonia?

Q. What is catatonia? You hardly hear about it anymore. Has it been cured?

A. As a 2009 review in the Archives of General Psychiatry aptly put it, catatonia may be forgotten, but it's certainly not gone. Long associated with schizophrenia ("catatonic type"), the latest research indicates that catatonia is a syndrome unto itself, and one that can be effectively treated.

Catatonia is a motor dysregulation disorder that may have more in common with movement disorders like Parkinson's disease than psychotic disorders. Those affected lose the ability to control movement. Some patients freeze or become rigid, while others cannot stop repetitive movements, even when they might injure themselves as a result. Other typical symptoms of catatonia are inability to speak (mutism), resistance to simple commands, apparent refusal to eat or drink, persistent staring, stupor, and lack of response to painful stimuli.

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