Narcolepsy

Nacrolepsy is defined as a sleep disorder that causes people to fall asleep under conditions that most people would not normally, such as while working, and for some people, even while driving. Narcolepsy is a disease of the central nervous system and affects about one in every 2,000 people around the world.

Narcolepsy presents unique symptoms, despite this many primary care physicians are unaware of the disorder and it can go undiagnosed for years. Additionally, for a long time many doctors believed that Narcolepsy was a mental illness; one where the episodes were an unconscious desire to escape stressful or unpleasant situations. Narcolepsy is no laughing matter despite how it has been portrayed in Hollywood movies such as Rat Race or My Own Private Idaho.

Fortunately, awareness in increasing and narcoleptics can access appropriate diagnostic tests and specific treatment for narcolepsy has proven to be very effective.

Narcolepsy Diagnosis

In order to diagnose narcolepsy, a series of tests are performed, beginning with a medical and psychological evaluation. If it is believed that you may have narcolepsy you will be asked to fill out questionnaires and may be asked to keep a sleep diary, so that your physician can see your sleep patterns. Evaluation in a sleep lab may also be performed. There your sleep will be continuously monitored in a controlled setting.

Narcolepsy Symptoms

There are a number of symptoms of narcolepsy:

  • Falling asleep at unusual times during the day
  • Being extra-sleepy during the daytime hours and a disrupted sleep at night
  • Some people report having hallucinations and their behavior becomes automatic
  • Cataplexy or a sudden, temporary loss of muscle control is also another symptom of narcolepsy
  • Symptoms may also include vision problems, including double vision, droopy eyelids and blurred vision

Narcolepsy is differentiated from hypersomnia in that hypersomnia symptoms do not include muscle weakness or sleep paralysis that is unique to narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy Treatment & Medication

There are different types of treatment for narcolepsy, the most common being drug and behavioral therapies. There are medications that are often used, including stimulants to keep people from daytime sleeping such as ADD medications (Ritalin, Adderall, Vyvanse and Concerta) and wakefulness medications (Provigil and Nuvigil). Other medications include anticataplectic medication (used to treat cataplexy), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and sodium oxybate.

Some of the non-medicinal treatments for narcolepsy include modifying behavioral patterns through cognitive behavioral therapy, education about the condition, and eliminating environmental factors that disrupt sleep at night.

When it comes to narcolepsy treatment, your physician or sleep specialist will know what course of treatment is best for you once your condition is correctly diagnosed. When you get the right narcolepsy treatment, you will stop falling asleep during the day; will sleep normally during the night and will become energetic and active during the daytime again.

Further resources:
medicinenet.com
ninds.nih.gov

Essential further reading:

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