AskDefine | Define catalepsy

Dictionary Definition

catalepsy n : a trancelike state with loss of voluntary motion and failure to react to stimuli

User Contributed Dictionary



catalepsy (plural catalepsies)
  1. severe bodily condition, described in psychiatric pathology, marked by sudden rigidity, fixation of posture, and loss of contact with environmental conditions

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Extensive Definition

Catalepsy is a condition characterized by muscular rigidity, fixity of posture and decreased sensitivity to pain.
Professionals once believed this disorder was the result of (controllable) mental states that had no basis in physiology. Researchers now know, however, that catalepsy does not appear of its own accord; instead, it often manifests as one in a constellation of symptoms caused by disorders that have physical causes. Catalepsy can be produced by conditions as varied as Parkinson's disease and epilepsy, for example. Catalepsy is also a characteristic symptom of cocaine withdrawal, and schizophrenia treatment with typical anti-psychotics.
Symptoms include: rigid body, rigid limbs, limbs staying in same position when moved (waxy flexibility), no response, loss of muscle control, and slowing down of bodily functions, such as breathing.
In some cases, isolated cataleptic instances can also be precipitated by extreme emotional shock.
Catalepsy is also a term used by hypnotists to refer to the state of making a hypnotised subject's arm, leg or back rigid. "Arm catalepsy" is often a pre-hypnotic test performed prior to an induction into a full trance.

Literary depictions

In Alexandre Dumas, père's novel The Count of Monte Cristo, the Abbé Faria suffered from fits of catalepsy from time to time.
In George Eliot's novel Silas Marner, the main character Silas Marner frequently suffers from cataleptic fits and seizures. It is not mentioned if they are caused by any of the aforementioned factors.
In Edgar Allan Poe's "The Premature Burial," the narrator suffers from catalepsy. He fears being mistakenly declared dead and buried alive, and goes to great lengths to prevent this. In another of Poe's short stories, "The Fall of the House of Usher," Madeline Usher suffers from catalepsy, and is buried alive by her unstable brother Roderick.
In Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Resident Patient," a doctor attempts to treat catalepsy with amyl nitrite.
In Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier, the protagonist Dowell suffers from catalepsy following the death of his wife.
In Robert A. Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land" the main character Valentine Michael Smith is believed to have catalepsy when he is returned to Earth.
In Chavo del Ocho, the main character, El Chavo, would have cataleptic-like fits if frightened, where he would curl as if sitting down in a chair and become stiff. However, he could be healed by being splashed with water.


catalepsy in Czech: Katalepsie
catalepsy in German: Katalepsie
catalepsy in Spanish: Catalepsia
catalepsy in French: Catalepsie
catalepsy in Italian: Catalessia
catalepsy in Lithuanian: Katalepsija
catalepsy in Dutch: Katalepsie
catalepsy in Polish: Katalepsja
catalepsy in Portuguese: Catalepsia patológica
catalepsy in Finnish: Katalepsia

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