Not everyone who experiences cataplexy has narcolepsy. Episodes can be caused by genetic conditions, strokes, brain tumors, and certain medications.
Cataplexy is a condition that causes a sudden loss of muscle control and muscle tone. These episodes are brief and often triggered by strong emotions like stress, anger, or grief.
Most people who experience episodes of cataplexy also have narcolepsy, a chronic condition that causes uncontrollable episodes of sleep. But not everyone who experiences cataplexy has narcolepsy. Other causes and conditions can also lead to cataplexy.
Treating cataplexy depends on how often episodes occur and on the severity of episodes. In this article, we’ll talk more about cataplexy without narcolepsy, the relationship between the two conditions, who they affect, and more.
Narcolepsy is a chronic condition that causes episodes of overwhelming daytime sleepiness and attacks of sudden sleep. People who have narcolepsy have trouble staying awake no matter what’s happening around them.
Some people with narcolepsy also have a condition called cataplexy. This is called type 1 narcolepsy.
Cataplexy is characterized by episodes of a sudden loss of muscle tone and control. These episodes are brief and often triggered by stress or other strong emotions. They can happen as rarely as once a year or as often as several times a day.
Sometimes, cataplexy episodes are the first symptom of narcolepsy and can help lead to a diagnosis. But not everyone with narcolepsy experiences episodes of cataplexy, and not everyone who experiences cataplexy has narcolepsy.
Most people who experience episodes of cataplexy have narcolepsy. But there are other causes and risk factors. These include:
- Niemann-Pick type C Disease (NPC): NPC is a genetic condition that causes neurologic symptoms. Sometimes, this includes cataplexy.
- Angelman Syndrome: Angelman syndrome is a genetic condition that leads to developmental delays and intellectual disability. This can cause cataplexy.
- Prader-Willi syndrome: Prader-Willi syndrome is a genetic condition that can cause delayed growth, development delays, and feeding challenges. Some children with this condition also have cataplexy.
- Strokes and brain tumors: Strokes and brain tumors can damage the nervous system and can lead to cataplexy.
- Certain medications. Cataplexy can be a side effect of certain medications, but this is rare.
Cataplexy causes episodes of muscle weakness and loss of muscle tone. This can lead to your knees buckling, your face drooping, your head bobbing, your limbs shaking, or even uncontrollable laughter.
You might fall if you’re standing, and you lose muscle tone in your legs. Typically, these events are triggered by stress or strong feelings or emotions, including:
Often, cataplexy is confused with seizure disorders, like epilepsy or fainting disorders. But unlike seizures, people with cataplexy remain awake and aware during their episodes.
Treatment for cataplexy depends on how often your episodes happen and how severe they are. Sometimes, no treatment is needed. For instance, people who have mild cataplexy episodes once or twice a year might not need a formal treatment plan.
Instead, their doctor might recommend that they let trusted family, friends, and coworkers know about the episodes. That way, someone can keep an eye out for episodes to ensure the person with cataplexy is safe if one occurs.
But if episodes are frequent, treatment might be needed. There’s no cure for cataplexy, but medications are often an effective way of reducing episodes. Your doctor might have to try a few different medications to find one that works right for you.
When treatment is required, off-label antidepressant medication is the most common. Off-label means the medications are intended to treat symptoms of depression, but they’ve also been found to relieve symptoms of cataplexy.
Antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants are common options. If antidepressants don’t work, sodium oxybate (Xyrem) is often the next choice.
Cataplexy is a condition that causes sudden episodes of a loss of muscle control. Most people who experience episodes of cataplexy also have narcolepsy. But not everyone who experiences cataplexy has narcolepsy.
Cataplexy can also be a symptom of some genetic conditions or the result of a stroke or brain tumor. In some cases, it can be a side effect of certain medications.
Treatment depends on how often episodes occur but commonly includes antidepressant medications.