Narcolepsy – An Overview
Narcolepsy is a chronic (long lasting) disease of the brain (central nervous system).
Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) is the main symptom and is present in 100% of patients with narcolepsy.
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes overwhelming and severe daytime sleepiness that often occurs at inappropriate times and places, even after adequate nighttime sleep.
The daytime sleep attacks may occur with or without warning, and can occur repeatedly in a single day and may be irresistible. Persons with narcolepsy often have fragmented nighttime sleep with frequent brief awakenings.
The other primary symptoms of narcolepsy include loss of muscle tone (cataplexy), distorted perceptions (hypnagogic hallucinations), and inability to move or talk (sleep paralysis).
Additional symptoms include disturbed nocturnal sleep and automatic behavior. All of the symptoms of narcolepsy may be present in various combinations and degrees of severity.
Narcolepsy begins (has its onset) usually in teenagers or young adults and affects both sexes equally. The first symptom to appear is EDS, which may remain unrecognized for a long time in that it develops gradually over time. The other symptoms can follow EDS by months or years.
Who is at risk for Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy may affect 150,000 (1 in 2,000) individuals or more in the United States. It usually first occurs between the ages of 15 and 30 and affects both men and women. The symptoms can start suddenly or appear slowly. The condition is difficult to diagnose without medical tests.
Genetic factors may influence its occurrence in different populations, however. Other factors-such as infection, trauma, hormonal changes, immune-system dysfunction, and stress may also be present before the disease develops. It affects females and males equally and occurs in all racial and ethnic groups. However, rates do seem to vary by country.
In exceptional cases it appears in early childhood, but occurrence typically first peaks in adolescence. People who develop it in the younger age group often have a family history of the disease and a severe condition, suggesting that genetic factors are important in this group.
How serious is Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a life-long problem but it is not progressive. Symptoms cannot disappear completely but reduce over time. People with Narcolepsy are very prone to accidents. Almost 75% of patients with narcolepsy reported falling asleep while driving in one survey and 56% reported near accidents.
People with narcolepsy have problems with memory and attention. The problems may be due to the abnormalities in the brain that cause the narcolepsy itself. Due to the tiredness and episodes of sleepiness, people face problems in thinking.
People suffer from headaches which are reportedly migraine and also are at risk for obesity compared to general population. The patient suffers emotional and social difficulties from the uncontrollable sleep events and cataplexy. Rate of depression in people with narcolepsy ranges from 30% to 57%.
Facts about narcolepsy:
- Frequently, narcolepsy is unrecognized for many years. There could be a delay of 10 years between the onset of the condition and the diagnosis.
- Approximately 50% of adults with narcolepsy retrospectively report symptoms beginning in their teenage years. For most patients, narcolepsy begins between the ages of 15 and 30 years. It less frequently occurs in children younger than age 10 years
- Narcolepsy is a treatable condition. A multi-modal approach is most effective (medications, a regular nighttime sleep schedule, and scheduled naps during the day) is required for the most favorable outcome.