Thermal injuries have been recognized to cause significant neuropsychiatric symptoms and disability in their sufferers since the middle of the 20th century, when Drs. Stanley Cobb and Erich Lindemann of the Massachusetts General Hospital (Boston, MA) studied survivors of the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire in Boston. Although “burn encephalopathy” or burn-induced delirium is a common occurrence in the acute phase, catatonia in burn patients is not often reported. This report describes a case of malignant catatonia occurring in a 51-year-old male patient acutely suffering from burns acquired in a chemical explosion, effectively treated with reinstitution of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. The literature on burn encephalopathy and catatonia in burns is reviewed. Few examples of burn catatonia exist. Burn encephalopathy is common, and may occur in patients with low TBSA burns such as described in the case above. Descriptions of burn encephalopathy are numerous, but have not included catatonia as a possible etiology. Catatonia in burn patients as an etiology of burn encephalopathy is likely underrecognized. Clinicians should be aware of the possibility of catatonia when a patient’s confusional state after a burn does not respond to usual care.
From the Department of Psychiatry, UNM Hospital, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.
Address correspondence to Davin Kenneth Quinn, MD, UNM Psychiatric Center, 2600 Marble Avenue NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87131.