Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a chronic disease of the central nervous system. The main symptom of narcolepsy is Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS). Every patient who suffers from narcolepsy also experiences EDS. Additional effects include loss of muscle tone (cataplexy), distorted perceptions (hypnagogic hallucinations), and the inability to move or talk (paralysis). Narcolepsy varies in severity and more embarrassing symptoms can occur for those with severe conditions.

The disorder usually begins in teenage years and affects both males and females similarly. The first symptom to appear is excessive daytime sleepiness, which may remain unrecognized for a long time in that it develops gradually over time. The other symptoms can follow excessive daytime sleepiness by months or years.

The exact cause(s) of this disease have not been clearly determined. However, some advances have been made in the last few years. In recent years, abnormalities in certain groups of brain nerve cells relating to their structure and function have been discovered in patients suffering from narcolepsy. This condition is called having hypocretin neurons. These cells are located in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus and they normally secrete neurotransmitter substances (chemicals released by nerve cells to transmit messages to other cells) called hypocretins.  The abnormalities found in the hypocretin system may be responsible for the abnormal sleep patterns experienced by narcoleptics.

Treatments

Narcolepsy is treated with a variety of prescription drugs as well as behavioral therapies. The type of treatment(s) used depends on the severity of the patient’s condition and their life condition. Good treatment management typically produces significant improvement of the symptoms rather than a resolution of all symptoms.