What is narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that is characterized by daytime sleepiness and often sleep attacks during the day.
What causes narcolepsy?
The exact causes are not known. This is a central nervous system disorder. Some patients have low levels of a hormone produced in the brain called hypocretin. It may be an autoimmune condition, i.e. the patient by himself produces antibodies against his own cells. Also, inheritance may play a role, as in the same family there can appear many persons who suffer from narcolepsy.
What are the symptoms of narcolepsy?
Usually narcolepsy appears in people aged 15-30 years. The main symptoms are the following:
- Daytime sleepiness and frequent sleep attacks during the day, even when the person eats, drives, talks etc. These episodes usually refresh and relax the patient.
- Visual or auditory hallucinations.
- Sleep paralysis during sleep onset or during of awakening.
- Cataplexy. By this we mean the sudden loss of muscle tone while awake so it is not possible to move. Usually it is triggered by strong emotions such as laughter, anger, etc. Usually cataplectic episodes last less than 30 seconds.
How is narcolepsy diagnosed?
A person who is suspected to suffer from narcolepsy needs to visit a doctor who is a specialist in sleep disorders. Doctor will take a medical history and examine the patient. Then, he will ask for some specific tests as a full polysomnography sleep study (with simultaneous EEG) and a specific test the day after, to estimate sleepiness. Also, he might request some blood tests.
Unfortunately, until today there is no cure for narcolepsy. However, your doctor will help you with the symptoms of the disease, as there are very good drugs to effectively treat the associated symptoms, i.e. daytime sleepiness, cataplexy, sleep paralysis and hallucinations.