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Narcolepsy: causes, symptoms and treatment

by Alivia Nyhan
Published: Last Updated on

Narcolepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system in which the person suffers from constant and irresistible drowsiness during the day. The incidence of this condition is relatively low in the population; it can appear between 15 and 30 years of age and affects men and women in the same way. At FastlyHealwe explain the causes, symptoms and treatment of narcolepsy.

Causes of narcolepsy

Like most nervous system disorders, narcolepsy does not have a specific cause. However, it is believed that it can be inherited because genes related to this condition have been found. Low levels of hypocretin, stimulating hormones produced by the brain to keep us awake, can be another cause, since people with narcolepsy pay less of this substance due to an autoimmune reaction.

Sleep phases

Narcolepsy is related to the phases of sleep; since these are poorly regulated, below we explain each of them:

  • Phase I: it is the poorly restorative sleep, in which the person can still perceive the stimuli around him, and the eye movement is slow.
  • Phase II: there begins to be a disconnection from the environment; sleep in this phase can be restorative, but not enough, and eye movements disappear.
  • Phase III: it is a deeper sleep than the previous one, and in case the person wakes up, they will feel confused and disoriented. At this point, the blood pressure is reduced, as well as the respiratory rate, and there are no dreams.
  • Phase IV: here, sleep is profound, and brain activity is slow. Dreams do not occur, but lights, figures, or images may appear that are not coherent. In this phase, disturbances such as night terrors or sleepwalking occur.
  • REM phase: alterations in this phase produce the symptoms of narcolepsy; since there is a difference between deep sleep and the activity of the nervous system, dreams appear with an argument, and disturbances such as nightmares, sleep paralysis, and sleep can occur in REM without total muscle relaxation.

Symptoms of narcolepsy

The symptoms of narcolepsy are divided into four manifestations:

  • Daytime sleepiness: characterized by the need to sleep that cannot be controlled. The impulse occurs in any situation, and the person does not realize that he has fallen asleep and may suffer accidents or falls. This manifestation can last a few minutes and occurs mainly after the meal, and upon waking, there is a feeling of rest.
  • Cataplexy: there is no muscle control, and the person cannot move, even though they are conscious. These seizures can last between 30 seconds and 2 minutes and occur several times daily. The knees, jaw, and head are the most affected parts.
  • Hallucinations: the person perceives sounds and images that do not exist and that are often frightening. It occurs when you go from wakefulness to sleep.
  • Sleep paralysis: is the inability to make any movement or speak, either when waking up or falling asleep. This sensation can last up to 15 minutes, and there is pressure and ringing in the ears. This symptom can occur in isolation; if you only present this sign, it is not necessarily narcolepsy.

Other symptoms related to this condition are:

  • Constant tiredness and fatigue
  • Depression
  • Difficult to focus
  • Sleep is divided into waking periods.

Diagnosis of narcolepsy

People with narcolepsy can have this condition for a long time before it is diagnosed since if they only have daytime sleepiness, it can be confused with other disorders. To diagnosis, narcolepsy is needed based on symptoms, age of the patient, his background, and when sleep attacks began.

The multiple sleep latency test is the tool that will be used to carry out a more accurate diagnosis. In this process, a daytime recording is carried out every 20 minutes for two hours, in which it is measured how long it takes for the signs of sleep to appear and whether there is REM sleep. If two REM phase dreams seem before 5 minutes, the diagnosis will be narcolepsy; genetic studies can also be performed if it has been hereditary.

Treatment for narcolepsy

Narcolepsy has no cure. However, proper treatment will help reduce symptoms. As for medications, antidepressants and sodium oxybate will treat symptoms such as hallucinations or cataplexy and control daytime sleepiness. A doctor specializing in sleep disorders or a neurologist will be able to give you a suitable plan to carry out the treatment since these medications have side effects.

On the other hand, it will be necessary to make lifestyle changes to relieve drowsiness and ensure sound sleep hygiene:

  • Avoid smoking.
  • Try to go to bed and wake up simultaneously each day.
  • Keep your room dim and your pillows comfortable to ensure a better night’s sleep.
  • Avoid ingesting stimulant drinks such as caffeine or alcohol before sleeping and heavy metals.
  • Do some relaxing activity before bed, take a hot bath, or read a book.
  • Exercise daily, preferably a few hours before going to sleep.
  • Take naps during the day.
  • Comment in the environment where you develop what your situation is.
  • This disorder can trigger other conditions such as depression or anxiety; visit a psychologist to help you channel your mood.

This article is merely informative, at FastlyHeal .com we do not have the power to prescribe medical treatments or make any type of diagnosis. We invite you to see a doctor in the case of presenting any type of condition or discomfort.

If you want to read more articles similar to Narcolepsy: causes, symptoms and treatment , we recommend that you enter our Brain and Nerves category .

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