What is narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy can be defined as excessive drowsiness during the day with a tendency to sleep at inappropriate times. The sleep episodes of narcolepsy are sometimes brought on by highly stressful situations and are not completely relieved by any amount of sleep.
Although narcolepsy is a fairly uncommon condition, its impact on a person’s life can be serious and—if not recognized and appropriately managed—disabling. Recent advances in medicine, technology and pharmacology are helping healthcare providers to recognize and treat this condition. A cure for narcolepsy has not yet been found, but most people with this disorder can lead nearly normal lives if the condition is properly treated.
What are the symptoms of narcolepsy?
The four most common symptoms of narcolepsy are:
- Excessive Daytime Sleepiness: usually the first symptom of narcolepsy. People with narcolepsy often report feeling easily tired or sleepy all the time. They tend to fall asleep not only in situations in which many people normally feel sleepy, bu also when most people would remain awake. People with narcolepsy may become drowsy or feel foggy at very unusual times or when drowsiness is dangerous.
- Cataplexy: sudden, brief losses of muscle control, are sometimes the first symptom of narcolepsy, but more often develop months or years after the onset of sleepiness. Cataplexy can be mild—such as a bridf feeling of weakness in the knees—or it may cause a complete physical collapse, resulting in a fall. A person having such an attack is fully awake and knows what is happening. Cataplexy is usually triggered by strong emotion, such as laughter, anger, or surprise. In some individuals, attacks can be caused by simpy remembering or anticipating an emotional or anxiety-producing situation.
- Sleep paralysis: a brief loss of muscle control that occurs when a person is falling asleep or waking up. The person may be somewhat aware of the surroundings, but is unable to move or speak. Sleep paralysis, unlike cataplexy, usually disappears when the person is touched.
- Hypnagogic hallucinations: vivid dreamlike experiences that occur when a person is drowsy. The hallucinations may involve disturbing images or sounds, such as of strange animals or prowlers. These can be frightening because the person is partly awake but has no control over the events. The dreams can also be upsetting if they are mistaken for the hallucinations or the delusions of mental illness.
When to see a healthcare provider:
If the symptoms are affecting ther person’s ability to drive, hold a job, stay in school, perform normal dialy activites, or if the symptoms are interfering with social activites and personal relationships, a visit with a healthcare provider is in order.