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Catalepsy is a condition characterized most often by rigidity of the extremities and by 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 schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease and epilepsy, for example. Catalepsy is also a characteristic symptom of cocaine withdrawal.
Symptoms include: rigid body, rigid limbs, limbs staying in same position when moved, 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.
Before autopsies were performed, many people who suffered from this disease were pronounced dead during long periods of rigidity. This led to numerous accounts of individuals being buried alive.
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