Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder where the brain is unable to regulate a person’s sleep-wake pattern. This medical condition affects about 0.05 percent of the world’s population, or roughly one in every 2000 people.
There are four symptoms to watch out:
- Excessive sleepiness during daytime – This is the first symptom to appear, and the need to sleep happens at times when the patient wants to stay awake, despite having adequate sleep.
- Hypnopompic or Hypnagogic hallucinations – The patient experiences vivid and frightening sounds and dreams before sleeping or waking up. Many Narcolepsy patients report such occurrences.
- Cataplexy – Sudden loss of muscle control. This brief occurrence range from slight muscle weakness to complete collapse.
- Sleep paralysis – This refers to the inability to move or talk for a brief period right before waking up or falling asleep.
Narcolepsy is deemed to be a neurological disorder of the normal boundaries between the states of waking and sleeping. Patients with this condition do not sleep normally within the 24-hour period, and their nighttime sleep is often interrupted by leg jerking, tossing and turning, frequent awakenings, and nightmares.
What triggers narcolepsy?
The cause has not been fully-understood yet, but researchers found that genes have something to do with this issue. The discovered that the likelihood of having narcolepsy increases when you have the HLADQB1*0602 genetic makeup. Some rare medical problems may mimic narcolepsy symptoms, which is why a thorough medical assessment is strongly recommended.
Your doctor will make the diagnosis based on the symptoms. Further investigation and physical examination are necessary to exclude other medical conditions, and to confirm the diagnosis.
Currently, there is no treatment that can cure narcolepsy. Your physician will prescribe medications as the first line of defence to combat the symptoms. The treatment plan normally includes helping patients develop alertness, and behavioural strategies. Stimulants and antidepressants may be prescribed. The good news is that patients diagnosed (and medically-treated) with narcolepsy have the same road accident risk as the general public.
Behavioral changes: what to expect
Patients are treated to develop the following behavioural changes:
- Healthy sleep hygiene (getting adequate sleep, avoiding caffeine later in the day, ditching vices, avoiding shift work, preventing use of bed during waking hours, and exercising regularly)
- Avoiding certain medications, like sedating antihistamines, that may worsen the symptoms
- Depending on the patient, short daily naps may be recommended, along with drug treatment.
- Developing strategies to manage symptoms
Joining a support group