Med/Psych Update

Ketamine for acute catatonia: A case report

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After 3 months of being stable on her outpatient regimen, Ms. C’s catatonic symptoms return, including refusing to eat and mutism. She is administered IV lorazepam, 4 mg, with no response and is admitted to the hospital for placement of a nasogastric feeding tube to address malnutrition. After several days, Ms. C responds to lorazepam, 4 mg every 6 hours. Six days later, after she begins eating and taking her medications voluntarily and the nasogastric tube is removed, Ms. C is discharged to home.

Findings need to be replicated in larger studies

Although some research has indicated that ketamine may be pro-catatonic, Ms. C’s improvement after receiving ketamine suggests that perhaps the situation is more complex.12,22 The exact mechanisms underlying catatonia remain uncertain. Carroll et al9 described 4 theories, and only 1 of them involved glutamate. Additionally, ketamine’s mechanism of action may extend beyond NMDA antagonism. In our case, Ms. C’s low BFCRS score during her most recent visit to the ED suggests she may have had a milder or less typical form of catatonia compared with her previous presentations (Sidebar). However, Ms. C’s clinical improvement after receiving ketamine is noteworthy.

A review of the literature yielded only 1 other case report that described using ketamine to treat catatonia.23 Iserson et al23 reported that their patient’s catatonic symptoms resolved after a total of 12.5 mg of ketamine was administered in 0.03 mg/kg boluses every 3 minutes. Compared with our own protocol, ketamine was administered at a much slower rate in this case, although both total doses of ketamine were comparable and well below the dose used for sedation. Additionally, in Iserson et al,23 lorazepam was not administered before ketamine because lorazepam was not readily available in the treatment setting. In our case, Ms. C may have had a delayed response to the IV lorazepam she received an hour before the ketamine dose; however, she exhibited a distinct clinical improvement 10 to 15 minutes after IV ketamine was administered. Nevertheless, both cases demonstrated rapid resolution of catatonic symptoms following administration of ketamine.

The marked improvement after the ketamine infusion allowed Ms. C to be discharged from the ED the same day, which was never possible after her previous catatonic episodes. Five days after discharge, she was walking, eating, talking, and able to attend to her activities of daily living without any change to her other medications. Moreover, these effects outlasted the duration of ketamine. Ms. C remained stable for 5 months until she destabilized in June 2020. At that time, she did not respond to lorazepam in the ED, needed to be hospitalized, and required a nasogastric feeding tube. Ketamine was not trialed during this presentation, so it remains to be seen if the patient’s response to ketamine was an isolated incident, or whether it could potentially spare her from future hospitalizations.

Bottom Line

In our case report, a woman with a long history of catatonia responded to a single infusion of IV ketamine, and the beneficial effects lasted for months. More research evaluating the efficacy of ketamine is needed to determine if this agent has a place in the treatment of catatonia.

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