Cataplexy is a sleep disorder characterized by unexpected loss of muscle control brought on by an emotional reaction ranging from fear, anger and surprise to laughter, embarrassment and orgasm. In the resulting episode, the afflicted person will experience either sagging facial muscles, a drooping head, weak knees or may even collapse to the ground.

Approximately 70% of people diagnosed with narcolepsy suffer from cataplexy. The attacks are most likely to take place when the person is tired and the subject may afterwards transition directly into an extended period of sleep or continue with normal behavior.

Cataplexy is unpredictable and its effects may be mild or severe. Frequency of occurrence is also difficult to gauge: An attack could be occasional or happen multiple times within a day.


  • Slurred speech
  • Blurred vision
  • Slack jaw
  • Head falling forward
  • Buckled knees
  • Weak arms
  • Slumped shoulders
  • Temporary paralysis
  • Total collapse

Although a person might experience the above symptoms during a cataplexy attack, they will nevertheless retain normal hearing and awareness of surroundings.

CataplexyDuring an episode, people may drop things or fall over and injure themselves. These accidents can severely impact daily life, causing humiliation and danger to the victim and other people. For example, people with this disorder may avoid activities like exercising at a gym, holding someone’s baby or going to a job interview. Sufferers may have anxiety over the most basic of actions, like eating, walking or driving.

Without treatment, fear of symptoms often leads to a diminished social life, troubled personal relationships and depression.

Over the years, doctors have been treating cataplexy with tricyclic antidepressants such as imipramine, clomipramine or protriptyline. Because of undesirable side effects, however, newer drugs like venlafaxine have been introduced.

Xyrem (sodium oxybate) and Monoamine oxidase inhibitors that are used in conjunction with narcolepsy and other sleep disorders are also recommended.

New Therapies
Hypnotic Psychotherapy, Hypocretin Gene Therapy, and Hypocretin Cell Transplantation are showing promise for the treatment of narcolepsy-associated cataplexy.

Other recommended medications:

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