are the symptoms?
do the symptoms appear?
Treatments are Available?
Behavioural Strategies Help People Cope
research is being done?
What is Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder
caused by the brain's inability to regulate
sleep-wake cycles normally. At various
times throughout the day, people with
narcolepsy experience fleeting urges to
sleep. If the urge becomes overwhelming,
patients fall asleep for periods lasting
from a few seconds to several minutes.
In rare cases, some people may remain
asleep for an hour or longer.
Narcolepsy is not rare, but it is an under-recognised
and under-diagnosed condition. The disorder
is estimated to affect about one in every
2,000 Americans. But the exact prevalence
rate remains uncerntain, and the disorder
may affect a larger segment of the population.
are the Symptoms?
People with narcolepsy experience highly
individualized patterns of REM sleep disturbances
that tend to begin subtly and may change
dramatically over time. The most common
major symptom, other than excessive daytime
sleepiness (EDS), is cataplexy, which
occurs in about 70 percent of all patients.
Sleep paralysis and hallucinations are
somewhat less common. Only 10 to 25 percent
of patients, however, display all four
of these major symptoms during the course
of their illness.
Do Symptoms Appear?
In most cases, symptoms first appear when
people are between the ages of 10 and
25 but narcolepsy can become clinically
apparent at virtually any age. Many patients
first experience symptoms between the
ages of 35 and 45. A smaller number initially
manifest the disorder around the ages
of 50 to 55. Narcolepsy can also develop
early in life, probably more frequently
than is generally recognized. For example,
3-year-old children have been diagnosed
with the disorder. Whatever the age of
onset, patients find that the symptoms
tend to get worse over the two to three
decades after the first symptoms appear.
Many older patients find that some daytime
symptoms decrease in severity after age
The cause of narcolepsy remains unknown
but during the past decade, scientists
have made considerable progress in understanding
its pathogenesis and in identifying genes
strongly associated with the disorder.
Researchers have also discovered abnormalities
in various parts of the brain involved
in regulating REM sleep that appear to
contribute to symptom development. Experts
now believe it is likely that - similar
to many other complex, chronic neurological
diseases - narcolepsy involves multiple
factors interacting to cause neurological
dysfunction and REM sleep disturbances.
is Narcolepsy Diagnosed?
Two tests in particular are considered
essential in confirming a diagnosis of
narcolepsy: the polysomnogram (PSG) and
the multiple sleep latency test (MSLT).
Treatments are Available?
Narcolepsy cannot yet be cured. But EDS
and cataplexy, the most disabling symptoms
of the disorder, can be controlled in
most patients with drug treatment.
What Behavioral Strategies
Help People Cope With Symptoms?
None of the currently available medications
enables people with narcolepsy to consistently
maintain a fully normal state of alertness.
Thus, drug therapy should be supplemented
by various behavioral strategies according
to the needs of the individual patient.
Research is Being Done?
Research is ongoing in many countries.
Within the American Federal government
for example, the National Institute of
Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS),
a component of the National Institutes
of Health (NIH), has primary responsibility
for sponsoring research on neurological
disorders. As part of its mission, the
NINDS supports research on narcolepsy
and other sleep disorders with a neurological
basis through grants to major medical
institutions across the country.