Narcolepsy is a chronic condition of sleep disorder wherein an irresistible daytime drowsiness and abrupt attacks of sleep takes place. This will result to serious distraction in daily activities. People who have narcolepsy frequently find it hard to stay awake for an extended period of time in spite of situations. Narcolepsy is not associated to depression, fainting, seizure disorder, lack of sleep or other conditions that may cause irregular sleep patterns.
Unfortunately, narcolepsy has no cure. But there are medications and lifestyle changes that can be consider as narcolepsy treatment that may help people affected with narcolepsy to deal with the symptoms.
What are the symptoms of narcolepsy?
For the first few years, symptoms of narcolepsy may get worse and persist for life. Symptoms of narcolepsy may include the following.
- The first symptom to come out in people affected with narcolepsy is an excessive daytime sleepiness. An overwhelming drowsiness and an unmanageable need to sleep throughout the day are the main characteristics of narcolepsy. People affected with narcolepsy fall asleep anywhere and anytime without even warning. Like for instance, people with narcolepsy may unexpectedly fall asleep while working or talking with friends. They may sleep just for a minute or up to half an hour before awakening and may feel recharged. However, they may eventually fall asleep again. There is a feeling of reduced attentiveness all through the day that may cause difficulty to focus and function completely.
- There is an abrupt loss of muscle tone and is called cataplexy. This can lead to physical changes like garbled speech to full weakness of the largest part of the muscles that may last for a few seconds to minutes. Cataplexy is a condition that is unmanageable and is frequently cause by an extreme emotions like excitement or laughter, surprise, fear or anger. Cataplexy occurs to some people affected with narcolepsy with one or two episodes in a year while some have several episodes in a day.
- People affected with narcolepsy experience sleep paralysis. This is the impermanent incapability to speak or move while falling asleep or upon waking. These incidents are typically brief that last for one or two minutes but it can be terrifying. People with narcolepsy may have knowledge of the condition and does not find it hard to remember it later on. However, not everyone experiencing sleep paralysis is affected with narcolepsy. There are a lot of people without narcolepsy encounter some events of sleep paralysis particularly during the young adulthood.
- People with narcolepsy may experience hallucinations called hypnagogic hallucinations that take place when falling rapidly into sleep or upon waking. As you begin dreaming, you may be half awake and experience the dreams as reality that it may appear distinct and scary.
What are the causes of narcolepsy?
The exact factors causing narcolepsy is not yet known. Medical research considers genetics that may have a vital role. Stress, illness or exposure to toxins may contribute to the occurrence of narcolepsy.
- In narcolepsy disorder, there is an absence of non-rapid eye movement phase of sleep. They rapidly go into rapid eye movement phase of sleep both through the day and at night. This is the reason why there is a sudden lack of muscle tone, vivid dreams and sleep paralysis for it is the characteristics of REM sleep.
- Low level of hypochretin in the spinal fluid may contribute to the development of narcolepsy. Hypochretin is the vital chemical present in the brain that helps to control the wakefulness and the REM sleep. However, the reason causing the loss of cells producing hypocretin in the brain is not known. But medical experts believe that it’s due to an autoimmune reaction.
What is the narcolepsy treatment?
The cure for narcolepsy is not yet known but there are medications that can help to deal with the narcolepsy symptoms and they are the following.
1. Stimulant drugs.
The most important narcolepsy treatment is the stimulant drugs which stimulate the central nervous system. It helps people affected with narcolepsy to keep wide awake all through the day. Health care providers frequently try modafinil as first medication for narcolepsy treatment because it is not addictive as other stimulants. Side effects of modafinil are not common but it may include, dry mouth, headache, anorexia, nausea and diarrhea. It may also tend to increase blood pressure particularly at high doses. Some may need narcolepsy treatment with methylphenidate or a variety of amphetamines. Even though these medications are efficient, they may also cause side effects like heart palpitations, nervousness and can also be addictive.
2. Selective serotonin or norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors.
Doctors frequently recommend these medications to inhibit REM sleep, to help to lessen the cataplexy symptoms, hypnagogic hallucinations and sleep paralysis. Some of these medications are fluoxetine, atomoxetine and venlafaxine. Reduced sexual desire and delayed orgasm are the most frequent side effects of these medications.
3. Tricyclic antidepressants.
4. Sodium oxybate.
Sodium oxybate is the mostly recommended by doctors for severe cataplexy. This medication helps the nighttime sleep to get better that is frequently poor in people with narcolepsy. This medication may also help to manage the daytime sleepiness in high doses. However, it can have severe side effects like bed-wetting, nausea and can make sleepwalking get worse.
These are the medications that can help to control the narcolepsy symptoms. Ask your doctor of what specific medications can be effective as narcolepsy treatment for your present condition.