Symptoms of Catatonic Disorders

Catatonia, a state of physical and mental immobility describes only one aspect of a catatonic disorder. While immobility is a prominent symptom of the condition, symptoms of this disorder can take many different forms.

Diagnosis-wise, a catatonic disorder is classified as a feature of another underlying disorder rather than as a condition of its own. Underlying disorders may be physical or psychological in origin. When left untreated, the effects of the disorder can cause a person to develop other problems, both physical and psychological.

Underlying Conditions


Catatonic symptoms can make it very difficult for a person to move around and speak.

A catatonic disorder can develop out of any number of underlying physical and psychological conditions, though its most often manifest through psychological disorders. Underlying medical conditions only account for 20 to 30 percent of cases. This disorder’s role as a featured component takes the form of behavior-based symptoms that vary according to the type of underlying condition at work.

Conditions commonly associated with catatonic disorders include:

  • Bipolar affective disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Depression
  • Encephalitis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Metabolic imbalances
  • Seizures

The most noticeable symptoms of catatonic disorder take the form of a rigid body posture that’s held for unusually long periods of time. In this state, a person remains nonresponsive and seemingly unaware of his or her surroundings.

Unless a person receives necessary treatment, sustained periods of immobility can result in permanent disability, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Even in cases where disability occurs, the effects of catatonic disorder on a person’s sense of self-awareness often keeps his or her unaware that a disability actually exists.

Because of the complex nature of catatonic disorders, the condition is often misdiagnosed or missed completely. When this happens, ongoing catatonic episodes can eventually worsen the underlying condition, which in turn worsens catatonic disorder symptoms.

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms of catatonic disorder tend to come and go in episodes since catatonia exists as part of an underlying condition. Someone experiencing a catatonic episode may exhibit unusually slow movements to the point where it takes them hours to complete a simple task, such as getting out of bed. It’s also not uncommon for a person to refuse to eat or drink during a catatonic episode.

As psychological issues often drive catatonic behavior, some people may experience extreme emotional pain when performing normal physical movements, such as moving an arm or a finger. Intense feelings of anxiety may even leave a person unable to speak for long periods of time.

Behavioral Symptoms

As catatonic disorders often develop from underlying psychological conditions, manic behavior symptoms are not uncommon in cases where bipolar and schizophrenia conditions drive the disorder.

Manic behaviors can take the form of:

  • Nonsensical speech patterns
  • Repeatedly contradicting others, also known as negativism
  • Sporadic movements
  • Rigid posturing
  • Repeating speech patterns
  • Mimicking another person’s words or phrases
  • Repetitive movements

While at times it may seem a person is conscious of his or her behavior, the cognitive impairment caused by the disorder leaves a person unaware of unusual behavior displays and the effects these behaviors have on others.


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