What Is Narcolepsy?

Posted In: General Practitioner     2018-02-24     31

Narcolepsy is a life-long sleep disorder characterized by excessive sleepiness, hallucinations, sleep paralysis, and in some cases, it brings along episodes of cataplexy, which is a partial or complete loss of muscle control, often stimulated by a strong emotion, including laughter.


People who have narcolepsy usually experience excessive sleepiness during daytime and uncontrollable sessions of falling asleep in the daytime. These sudden sleep attacks may take place during any type of activity of the day.


Causes of narcolepsy


The episodes of narcolepsy with cataplexy occur because of the loss of a chemical in the brain called hypocretin, which usually acts on the altering systems in the brain and helps us in staying awake as well as regulate sleep-wake cycles. In this condition, the group of cells that produce hypocretin – found in a region called the hypothalamus is partially or completely damaged. In the absence of hypocretin, the person has difficulty in staying awake, and also faces disruptions in the normal sleep-wake cycles.


Signs & Symptoms


Symptoms of narcolepsy are as follow:


·         Excess daytime sleepiness (EDS)

·         Cataplexy, it is a condition when a person experiences a sudden loss of muscle tone which results in feelings of weakness and inability to control voluntary muscle.

·         Hallucinations

·         Sleep paralysis


How is narcolepsy diagnosed?


It is diagnosed by a physical exam, going through medical history, as well as conducting sleep tests.

Two tests that are important for confirming a person is having narcolepsy are the polysomnogram (PSG) and the multiple sleep latency tests (MSLT).


Treatment & management


·         Although there is no cure for narcolepsy, a combination of medications and behavioral treatments can enhance symptoms for people to lead normal lives.

·         Sleepiness can be treated with amphetamine-like stimulants, whereas the symptoms of abnormal REM sleep are cured with antidepressant drugs.


·         Changing lifestyle such as avoiding alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and heavy meals, scheduling daytime naps, regulating sleep schedules, daily exercise, and meal schedule could also help in improving symptoms.