In simple words, Narcolepsy is a medical condition that can be defined as a chronic neurological disorder that impacts the nervous system. It is a disorder in which a human experiences abnormal sleep, adversely affecting an individual’s quality of life.
According to experts, Narcolepsy is a rare condition that affects 1 in every 200 people. The first onset of this medical condition usually occurs between the ages of 7 and 25. More importantly, it is impossible to detect this sleeping disorder right away. Therefore, you will find that it is often misdiagnosed. This blog presents the basic facts about Narcolepsy that you need to know about.
What are the Symptoms of Narcolepsy?
Several symptoms of Narcolepsy vary according to their frequency of occurrence and intensity. A few common signs are as follows:
Cataplexy: This is a medical condition in which there is a sudden and temporary loss of muscle tone. In addition, when an individual experiences Cataplexy, symptoms such as the total collapse of the body and drooping eyelids are seen. A human being may also exhibit intense emotions such as fear and excitement.
However, the regularity with which Cataplexy occurs depends from person to person. Therefore, it could happen once a year or several times a day.
It is the complete loss of ability by a human to either move or speak while falling asleep, waking, or sleeping. Besides, an episode of Sleep Paralysis lasts only a few seconds to minutes. It also can mimic the paralysis an individual sees during REM sleep.
There is no effect of Sleep Paralysis on the ability to breathe or make eye movements.
Disturbed sleep pattern:
Usually, people having Narcolepsy during the daytime find it extremely hard to stay awake in the daytime. There is also the possibility that a narcoleptic individual will struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep during the night.
Poor regulation of Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep:
A poorly regulated REM sleep is a symptom that you commonly see in Narcolepsy. REM sleep is a stage of ‘Sleeping’ during which you have vivid dreams and lose muscle tone. Furthermore, you enter this phase approximately ninety minutes after you fall asleep. It can also happen at any time, approximately fifteen minutes before falling asleep.
Frequent vivid dreams are what most individuals are having Narcolepsy see that usually occur while waking up or falling asleep.
Once a person with Narcolepsy falls asleep during an activity like driving or eating, that individual unconsciously may continue with it for a few minutes or seconds, which we call Automatic Behaviors.
In addition, Narcolepsy is a medical condition that has an association with other sleep disorders such as the following:
- Lack of sleep or insomnia
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Restless leg syndrome
Most people with Narcolepsy possess excessive daytime sleepiness or EDS. This symptom involves a human being feeling a very strong urge to sleep. More importantly, an individual with EDS generally loves to sleep during the day.
Types of Narcolepsy:
Typically, Narcolepsy consists of two types. They are as follows:
- Type 1:
It is the most common symptom of Narcolepsy, which comprises a sudden loss of muscle tone called Cataplexy.
- Type 2:
Generally, individuals having Type 2 Narcolepsy possess normal levels of hypocretin.
Factors that trigger Narcolepsy:
The exact reason that stimulates Narcolepsy in a human being is not known yet. However, there is a chance that this medical condition may occur due to a protein in the brain called ‘Hypocretin.’ Other factors also cause Narcolepsy, including brain trauma, exposure to toxins, infection, and stress.
Furthermore, there are certain risk factors for Narcolepsy that you need to know about. They are as follows:
History of Brain Trauma:
An individual can suffer from Narcolepsy if severe trauma is found in regions of the brain that usually regulate REM sleep. Also, you should know that brain tumor formation may also cause Narcolepsy.
If you have a family member, i.e., either a sibling or a parent having Narcolepsy, you are 40 times more likely to suffer from this condition.
It is either around the age of 15 or 36 that is the ideal time to diagnose Narcolepsy. Moreover, you must know that this medical condition is often not diagnosed well.
How is Narcolepsy diagnosed?
Are you experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness or any other symptoms of Narcolepsy? If yes, then you need to speak with your doctor, who might request you to get an overnight sleep study done from among the following.
Epworth Sleepiness Scale or ESS:
It is a simple questionnaire that asks you what the chances are of sleeping under varied circumstances.
Multiple Sleep Latency Test or MSLT:
It is a test that helps you determine the duration of your sleep during the day. In addition, you also get to know how quickly you can enter REM sleep.
Polysomnography or PSG:
It is a testing method that uses electrodes and helps measure your brain activity, rhythm, heart rate, eye movement, etc. More importantly, specifically for this procedure, you will need to spend the night in the medical facility.
What are the Treatment Options for Narcolepsy?
This medical condition, known as Narcolepsy, is a chronic medical condition. Although there is no complete cure for this sleeping disorder, you can get treatment and manage symptoms. Furthermore, there are also several classes of medications that your doctor may prescribe for Narcolepsy:
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs:
Fluoxetine or Prozac is an SSRI or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor drug capable of regulating sleep and improving mood. Moreover, some side effects of taking medication include dry mouth and lightheadedness.
Agents that improve wakefulness:
Drugs such as methylphenidate, armodafinil, and modafinil can help enhance your ability to stay awake. Although, there are side effects that come with using these medications. They include anxiety, nausea, and headache.
Furthermore, the use of such medicines can also cause severe skin rash and lower levels of estrogen.
Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors or SNRIs:
A few SNRI or Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors such as Effexor or venlafaxine can effectively help treat Narcolepsy. Some side effects may include insomnia, weight gain, and digestion problems.
Drugs such as amitriptyline and nortriptyline, tricyclic antidepressants, are also efficient in treating Narcolepsy.
It is a fact that living with Narcolepsy can be a challenge for both your social and professional life. Experiencing spells of excessive sleepiness can be stressful. During an episode, there’s a chance that you could hurt yourself or someone else.
Nevertheless, you can manage your illness. Therefore, you need to maintain your health by receiving the proper diagnosis, working with your doctor to choose the best course of treatment, and adhering to your treatment schedule as directed.
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