Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a disorder of the nervous system. It results in frequent involuntary, episodes of sleep during the day. Sleep attacks can occur while you drive, talk, or work.

  • Causes

    The cause is unknown. It is thought to have a genetic link. There is increasing evidence that it may be an autoimmune disorder. In this type of disorder, the body’s own immune system attacks a part of the brain.

  • Definition

    Narcolepsy is a disorder of the nervous system. It results in frequent involuntary, episodes of sleep during the day. Sleep attacks can occur while you drive, talk, or work.

  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. If narcolepsy is suspected, you may be referred to a specialist in sleep disorders.

    Tests may include:

    • Multiple sleep latency test (MSLT)—measures the onset of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which occurs earlier than normal in narcolepsy

    • General sleep lab study—often done the night before an MSLT; helps to rule out other causes of daytime sleepiness by monitoring:

      • Brain waves
      • Eye movements
      • Muscle activity
      • Respiration
      • Heart beat
      • Blood oxygen levels
      • Total nighttime sleep
      • Amount of nighttime REM sleep
      • Time of onset of REM sleep
      • Degree of daytime sleepiness
    • A questionnaire regarding your degree of daytime sleepiness

  • Prevention

    There are no guidelines to prevent narcolepsy. But, you can try to prevent symptoms by:

    • Exercising on a regular basis
    • Getting adequate sleep at night

  • Risk Factors

    Having family members with narcolepsy is a risk factor for the condition.

  • Symptoms


    Symptoms usually start during the teenage years. Onset may range from 5-50 years old. Symptoms may worsen with aging. They may improve in women after
    menopause.

    Symptoms include:

    • Excessive daytime sleepiness
    • Daytime involuntary sleep attacks
    • Unrefreshing sleep
    • Sudden loss of muscle tone without loss of consciousness
    • Temporary paralysis while awakening or falling asleep
    • Frightening mental images that appear while awakening or as one falls asleep
    • Memory problems

    • Symptoms may be triggered by:

      • A monotonous environment
      • A warm environment
      • Eating a large meal
      • Strong emotions
    Brainstem—Area of Brain Related to Alertness
    GM00010 97870 brainstem.jpg
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Treatment

    Treatment may include:

    • Stimulant medicines that increase levels of daytime alertness
    • Antidepressants to help treat symptoms of narcolepsy

    Other treatment options include:

    • Planned short naps throughout the day
    • Counseling
      to cope with issues of self esteem
    • Wearing medical alert jewelry