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 bouts of sleep. If the urge becomes overwhelming, individuals will fall asleep for periods lasting from a few seconds to several minutes or perhaps even an hour or more. People with narcolepsy may also complain of insomnia.

Symptoms
In addition to excessive daytime sleepiness, three other major symptoms frequently characterize narcolepsy:

  • Cataplexy, or the sudden loss of voluntary muscle tone
  • Vivid hallucinations during sleep onset or upon awakening
  • Brief episodes of total paralysis at the beginning or end of sleep

Cause
The cause of narcolepsy remains unknown. It is likely that narcolepsy involves multiple factors that when they interact, cause neurological dysfunction and sleep disturbances.

Diagnosis
To determine if you have narcolepsy, your doctor may refer you to a sleep medicine specialist at a Riverside Centers for Sleep Medicine.

Medical history
Your sleep specialist will take a medical history to determine if:

  • Problems such as infection, brain injuries, contact with toxins (such as pesticides) or autoimmune disorders are making you prone to narcolepsy.
  • Medications you are taking cause intense daytime sleepiness.
  • You have symptoms of other sleep disorders that cause daytime sleepiness.
  • You have relatives who have narcolepsy or who have similar symptoms to yours.

Physical exam
A physical exam will be conducted to help your sleep specialist determine if an underlying medical condition may be causing your symptoms.

Sleep Studies
If your physician thinks you have narcolepsy, he or she prescribe a sleep study. To diagnose narcolepsy, specialists will conduct a polysomnogram (PSG) and a multiple sleep latency test (MSLT).

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