Cataplexy is an all too frequently misunderstood condition. Attacks happen suddenly and without warning and can be quite alarming to those who don’t know about the condition. In truth, it is something which can be easily managed and most sufferers learn to live with it and handle attacks as they occur.
By definition, it is a condition that results in sudden and complete loss of muscle control. The severity of attacks varies from patient to patient. It can manifest as everything from a slacking of the facial muscles to weakening of the leg muscles that results in collapse. It does not include of loss of consciousness, which can make it all the more disturbing to those who witness attacks.
Attacks of cataplexy can also include slurred speech or blurred vision, but the patient is usually completely aware of their surroundings. Attacks will subside on their own after several minutes. Because they are unpredictable, these kinds of attacks can be as disturbing and difficult to deal with as seizures, but there are no serious, prolonged effects.
It is not possible to predict a pattern of attacks nor to know when one is about to happen. They come on without warning and frequency can differ from one case to the next. What is known is that the attacks are caused by expressions of emotion. Anger, surprise, laughter, stress or shock can all bring on an attack. In come cases, even yawning or sighing can trigger an attack.
Cataplexy can be difficult to diagnose because it is sometimes a symptom of narcolepsy and the two can become intertwined. When most people think of narcoleptics literally collapsing into sleep, what they are seeing is really a combination of the sudden onset of sleep caused by narcolepsy and loss of muscle control common to cataplectics. While they can occur together, it is necessary to treat cataplexy separately in order to successfully control the symptoms.
Treatment can also vary, depending on the severity of symptoms. In some cases, no treatment will be necessary at all. Patients learn to live with the attacks and simply let them pass on their own. In more severe cases, antidepressants and other neurological inhibitors may be prescribed. These medicines will help to block the signals in the brain which cause the muscles to temporarily shut down.
Of course, as with any drugs, those used to treat cataplexy are not without their side effects, therefore it is imperative that you check with your doctor before beginning any such treatment. While attacks can inhibit some parts of your daily routine, such as driving or holding a baby, in most cases they can be managed and patients can live a full, happy life despite the condition.
Cataplexy can be a frightening experience, but the more you learn and the more you work with your doctor, the easier it can be to manage your symptoms. Diagnosis doesn’t have to be the end of the world. With the proper education, you can go right on living.