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Narcolepsy Symptoms, Signs

Narcolepsy refers to a sleep disorder which leads to drowsiness and sudden bouts of sleep during the daytime. Individuals with narcolepsy may find it difficult to remain awake for long stretches of time. The condition can affect a person’s daily routine as it can occur in any circumstances. Narcolepsy is not associated to lack of sleep or depression. Narcolepsy is a chronic disorder and there is no cure for it.
Individuals with narcolepsy are able to manage the symptoms through certain medications and lifestyle modifications. 

The symptoms of narcolepsy are known to worsen during the initial years and the symptoms persist for life. The condition affects both men and women, although narcolepsy symptoms in men are more common. Narcolepsy signs in women are similar to those in men. Even in children, similar symptoms are known to develop. However narcolepsy symptoms in children such as daytime sleepiness may be more severe. Narcolepsy signs list and symptoms include daytime drowsiness wherein the individual experiences an overwhelming need to sleep. Sleep may occur at any time or place without any warning. An individual may fall asleep even while talking or while engaged in some kind of activity. Sleep may continue for a period of a few minutes to an hour. The individual will wake up feeling refreshed, but may experience drowsiness and sleep again. Individuals with narcolepsy suffer from diminished concentration during the day. Excessive sleepiness during the day is the first symptom of narcolepsy that usually occurs and can severely affect a person’s ability to perform daily tasks. There is also likely to be a loss of muscle tone in people with narcolepsy. This is a condition known as cataplexy and is characterized by various physical symptoms such as muscle weakness and slurred speech. Intense emotions are usually the trigger for cataplexy. Individuals with this condition may experience drooping of the head or buckling of the knees when they laugh or get excited. Such episodes tend to occur once or twice a year, but in some cases they can also occur more frequently. Another symptom of narcolepsy is sleep paralysis where the individual is unable to talk or move while they fall asleep or wake up. This may continue for just a couple of minutes, but can be quite disturbing. Sleep paralysis may also occur in people who do not have narcolepsy. Narcolepsy can also lead to hallucinations of the hypnagogic type. These may occur when an individual first falls asleep or wakes up. These hallucinations can be quite vivid in nature.

Individuals affected by narcolepsy may also suffer from other sleep disorders. Obstructive sleep apnea is one such condition wherein the individual stops breathing for short periods of time during sleep. Insomnia and restless legs syndrome may also occur in those with narcolepsy. In some cases, automatic movements continue during sleep episodes. Hence a person may continue to write or drive even while asleep. Narcolepsy symptoms usually develop around 10 to 25 years of age, but can also occur anytime up to the 50s. Individuals who develop the condition early may experience more severe symptoms. It is important to consult a doctor even if mild narcolepsy symptoms are experienced.

Narcolepsy Causes

The exact cause of this disorder is not known. Although in the development of narcolepsy, genetic causes may have a role to play. Narcolepsy causes may also include stress, infection and exposure to toxins. In normal circumstances, the sleep pattern starts with the non-rapid eye movement stage during which there is a slowing down of brain waves. After about a couple of hours, brain activity quickens again and the REM or rapid eye movement stage occurs. Dreaming mostly takes place during this stage. However individuals with narcolepsy may directly enter the stage of REM sleep in the daytime as well as during the night. REM sleep is characterized by certain symptoms such as sleep paralysis, vivid dreaming and lack of muscle tone. There is also the involvement of the brain in narcolepsy. But what part of the brain causes narcolepsy? It is the brain chemicals that play a role in this disorder. One of the main chemicals in the brain is hypocretin which controls sleeping and waking as well as REM sleep. Reduced levels of this chemical are observed in the spinal fluid of individuals with narcolepsy. These levels are especially low in those with cataplexy. However the exact causes of reduced hypocretin is unknown. An autoimmune reaction of the body may be a possible cause. In some cases of narcolepsy, brain damage may be the trigger.

Narcolepsy Treatment

Narcolepsy cannot be cured. However it is possible to control the disorder. Therefore narcolepsy treatment may involve medication and lifestyle changes that help in managing the symptoms. Narcolepsy drug treatment may include stimulants which work on the central nervous system so that the person is able to remain awake in daytime. Other medications which help to ease cataplexy, sleep paralysis and hallucinations may also be given. Many narcolepsy treatment medications can have certain side effects and it is advisable to discuss this with the doctor. Those who are on treatment for narcolepsy may be advised to stop taking cold and allergy medications as they can cause drowsiness. Narcolepsy natural remedies involve making certain modifications in the lifestyle so that the symptoms can be controlled. It is important to maintain a regular sleeping and waking schedule. It is also advisable to take regular naps to alleviate drowsiness and refresh the body. Gingko biloba is known to be a beneficial narcolepsy natural cure because it enhances blood flow to the brain. Home remedies for narcolepsy also include use of herbs such as St. John’s wort and ephedra which help to improve energy levels.

Narcolepsy Diagnosis

Narcolepsy diagnosis may be made after symptoms such as excessive daytime drowsiness and cataplexy are reported. The multiple sleep latency test is a narcolepsy diagnostic test in which the time an individual takes to fall asleep in the daytime is measured. The individual’s sleep history and sleep records may also be evaluated when diagnosing narcolepsy.
Submitted on January 16, 2014