Catatonic Schizophrenia Behavior

What to Expect and How It Can Be Treated

Catatonic
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Catatonic schizophrenia is associated with two kinds of catatonic behaviors: stupor or motor rigidity and excitement. While these symptoms can be scary and extremely debilitating, knowing more about them (and what treatments are available) can help you better manage or help a loved one do so.

Catatonic schizophrenia is a serious neurological or psychological condition that occurs in people with schizophrenia as well as in those with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder. Catatonic behavior may also result from certain medications.

Common Catatonic Behaviors

If you experience rigidity or stupor, you may be unable to speak, respond, or even move—and this can last for hours or even days, if left untreated. Catatonic schizophrenia can also cause a person to perform strange movements and stay in uncomfortable-looking positions without attempting to shift into more comfortable or natural ones.

In addition to a lack of mobility, erratic and extreme movement is typical of catatonic behavior. For example, you might pace in a repeated pattern and make loud exclamations for no reason at all (i.e., these actions are not in response to an environmental stimulus or event).​

Those experiencing catatonic excitement will exhibit manic behaviors such as babbling or speaking incoherently. Parrot-like repetition or echoing of words, known as echolalia, is also a common catatonic behavior.

Of course, people with this disorder may also displays signs of schizophrenia, including:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Cognitive problems
  • Social withdrawal
  • Bursts of anger
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Social issues
  • An inability to express emotions

Getting a Diagnosis

There are no labs or tests to diagnose catatonic schizophrenia. Instead, your doctor will perform a series of medical exams and psychological evaluations to assess your physical and mental health, as well as rule out other conditions.

Depending on the results, your doctor might give you a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or an electroencephalogram (EEG) to check for any lesions or unusual brain wave patterns. A blood test may also be given to check for the presence of drugs and alcohol.

During the psychological evaluation, you will be asked questions about your thoughts and behaviors. A psychiatrist will attempt to discover how long you have been experiencing the symptoms in question.

If a patient is in a catatonic stupor and unable to talk, his or her family may be called in to provide information about the catatonic behavior.

Misdiagnosis

Unfortunately, because this type of schizophrenia is characterized by motor symptoms, it is sometimes mistaken for another disorder.

Catatonic symptoms like facial contortions, strange limb movements, or unusual body positions can lead to a misdiagnosis of tardive dyskinesia. Similarly, Tourette's syndrome is often confused for catatonia due to echolalia (repeating what others say) and echopraxia (copying another person's movements).

Types of Treatment

Catatonic schizophrenia is a lifelong, chronic condition, which means you'll need to take steps to stay ahead of and manage your catatonic behaviors and your schizophrenia.

While there's no cure, there are treatment methods that can help you to better manage your symptoms.

Medication

Benzodiazepines are perhaps the most common approach to treatment. These drugs act as depressants on the central nervous system, which is why they are often used to treat anxiety.

Because these drugs are fast-acting, they can often relieve catatonic symptoms quite quickly. However, they can be habit-forming, especially when used as a long-term treatment.

Other drugs such as barbiturates, antidepressants, and antipsychotics are occasionally used to treat catatonic schizophrenia, but they are not as effective as benzodiazepines.

Psychotherapy

While medication is usually the first-line approach to treatment, it is often combined with psychotherapy. Psychotherapists help patients better understand their feelings, behaviors, and responses. People in therapy learn a variety of coping skills and acquire new ways of dealing with stressful events in their lives.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

ECT, or shock treatment, has sometimes been used to treat catatonic schizophrenia. This technique involves sending an electrical current through the brain. Since ECT is so controversial and can produce severe side effects, including memory loss, it is generally only used in severe cases—for instance, if the patient doesn't respond to medication, is severely depressed, or at risk of suicide.

A Word From Verywell

With appropriate treatment, an individual suffering from catatonic schizophrenia can find relief from their symptoms. Treatment can also help patients avoid many of the dangerous complications associated with this disorder, including substance abuse, family conflict, and suicide.

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