Narcolepsy is characterized by excessive, overwhelming daytime sleepiness. Even after getting a good night's sleep, narcolepsy can make somebody fall asleep at inappropriate times and places. Sometimes, the urge to sleep can be totally overwhelming causing somebody to sleep at the wheel of a car or at other dangerous times. There has been much research recently into the causes of narcolepsy, and some progress has been made. However, the treatment of narcolepsy still revolves around stimulant agents.
Three other symptoms often associated with narcolepsy:
Cataplexy - sudden episodes of loss of muscle function that can be as severe as total collapse. These episodes of muscle weakness are often associated with emotion.
Sleep paralysis - the inability to move when falling asleep or waking up. This inability to move can last from a few seconds to several minutes and can naturally be very frightening to the patient.
Hypnagogic hallucinations - these are vivid, dream-like experiences that occur when falling asleep or dozing, similar to dreaming with your eyes open.
These three conditions may occur in people who do not have narcolepsy. One in four patients with narcolepsy have the other three conditions which can significantly worsen quality of life. Naturally, these symptoms can produce serious disruptions to your life, and cause people to significantly reduce their activities of daily living so they do not have an episode in public or produce serious injury to themselves.
How Common is Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is as common as Parkinson's Disease, although it is of much less public profile and awareness. It is estimated that as many as 200,000 Americans may have some degree of narcolepsy - but fewer than 50,000 have been diagnosed. This means that 75% of all people with narcolepsy have not been diagnosed or properly treated for their disease. Often, people with narcolepsy are thought to have depression, epilepsy, or suffering from the side effects of various medications.
Who Gets Narcolepsy?
Anybody can get narcolepsy, at any age. It may also run in families, since it is estimated that 8-12% of people with narcolepsy have a close relative who also has the disease.
How is Narcolepsy Diagnosed?
Your entire medical history is reviewed, including your present regimen of medications. We ask you questions that become a part of your Sleep History. Two tests that we perform to diagnose narcolepsy include a polysomnogram (sleep test), and a Multiple Sleep Latency Test (or MSLT). The polysomnogram is a continuous recording of your brain waves while you are asleep, along with an analysis of your nerve, breathing, heart, and muscle functions. The MSLT involves allowing you to nap for fifteen minutes every two hours during normal waking times. We then observe how long it takes you to get into REM sleep (rapid eye movement sleep) after you fall asleep during these naps. Patients with narcolepsy normally fall asleep rapidly, and get to REM sleep quickly during at least two of these nap periods.
How is Narcolepsy Treated?
Treatments can take weeks, or months before an optimal drug regimen is obtained. Additionally, complete control of cataplexy is very difficult and rarely impossible. Treatment of narcolepsy often involves medication and lifestyle changes. The medications used to excessive sleepiness in narcolepsy are known as central nervous system stimulants. For cataplexy and other REM related sleep symptoms, physicians may prescribe antidepressant medications and other drugs that suppress REM sleep. Caffeine is not recommended, nor are over the counter medications.
Short naps during the day are often scheduled to help relieve the sleepiness associated with narcolepsy. Naps of10-15 minutes length, 2-3 times a day may help patients feel more refreshed during the day, and reduce episodes of extreme sleepiness.
Sleep Solutions of Tennessee has diagnosed many cases of narcolepsy and most of them are doing very well. New treatments and medications are now being proposed for narcolepsy which may further help those with this disease become more functional and lead a normal, healthy life.
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Sleep Solutions of Tennessee
315 North Washington Avenue
Cookeville, TN 38501
931-528-7449 - Phone
931-528-8015 - Fax
866-627-5337 - Toll Free