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Benzodiazepines for the Treatment of Catatonia

Benzodiazepines for the Treatment of Catatonia

Benzodiazepines are the first-choice treatment for catatonia, regardless of the underlying condition. Benzodiazepines are positive allosteric modulators of GABA-A receptors and will correct deficient GABA-ergic function in the orbitofrontal cortex.

Following a positive Lorazepam Challenge Test, repeated doses of benzodiazepines can a treatment. Their use is safe, easy, and effective, with remission rates reported to be as high as 70–80%.

About 65% Rates in a Naturalistic Study

In a naturalistic study of 66 children and adolescents with catatonia, they found that benzodiazepines improved catatonia in 65% of cases, that there was no relation between dose and level of improvement, that the dose was higher sometimes (up to 15 mg of lorazepam) than the dose recommended in pediatric patients, and that side effects were few.

Two-thirds Improved in a Trial of 107 adults

In a recent trial in 107 adult inpatients (49% with a psychotic disorder; 44% with a mood disorder), lower success rates they reported lower success rates: two-thirds responded but only one-third of patients remitted. The authors argue that a delay between illness onset and treatment could explain the lower remission rate) but the doses used in the trial (3–6 mg per day) were inadequately low. As described above, studies have repeatedly shown that chronic catatonia associated with schizophrenia is less responsive to benzodiazepines.

Beckmann and Colleagues Found them Ineffective

Beckmann and colleagues, in a 5-year follow-up study, found benzodiazepines ineffective in the treatment of chronic catatonic schizophrenia. Another study reported a comparable poor response (to lorazepam 6 mg per day); it was a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in 18 patients with chronic catatonia in schizophrenia.

Efficacy Depends on Dose

Efficacy of benzodiazepines in catatonia depends on dosage, and doses from 8 to 24 mg lorazepam per day are common and are tolerated without ensuing sedation, especially when instituted using daily incremental dosages. Most authors suggest starting at 1–2 mg of lorazepam every 4–12 h and adjusting the dose in order to relieve catatonia without sedating the patient. With an adequate dose, we usually see a response within 3–7 days, but sometimes, the response can be gradual. If we use high dosages of lorazepam, patients should be monitored carefully for excessive sedation and respiratory compromise. Whether some benzodiazepines are more efficacious in catatonia is not clear yet.

Clinicians accept lorazepam to be the first-choice drug, demonstrating a 79% remission rate and the highest frequency of use. Studies have also reported the successful use of diazepam, oxazepam, or clonazepam. There is no consensus on how long benzodiazepines to continue benzodiazepines, and we discontinue them once the underlying illness has remitted. In several cases, however, catatonic symptoms will emerge each time lorazepam is tapered off, urging the clinician to continue benzodiazepines for an extended period.


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