Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder that causes people to fall asleep during the day at random. People can feel drowsy and experience hallucinations, sleep paralysis, and in severe cases, cataplexy (partial or complete loss of muscle control).
These symptoms cause the patient to fall asleep during routine tasks and interfere with daily life. This may happen quite frequently in a day and without any stimulation. It affects 1 in 2000 people on average and may last from a few years to the entire lifetime of the individual. Unfortunately, a cure is not available yet so it can only be treated at the moment.
Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder that causes excessive sleepiness in patients. They feel lethargic and exhausted and control oversleep is lost. Involuntarily, the patient falls asleep.
In some cases, cataplexy can lead to dangerous situations as the person loses control of his muscles. Due to cataplexy, a person may feel weak and begin to slur. The disorder is accompanied by lapses in memory, reduced mental focus, and bad mood.
The disorder usually starts between the ages of 15 to 25, but effects may last all life. Sometimes, the symptoms may have been there for years before a diagnosis is carried out. Since many cases go unreported, it is difficult to put a number on how many people are affected by narcolepsy.
The exact cause of narcolepsy is unknown but there are some theories. One of these suggests that the condition may be caused due to low levels of hypocretin. Hypocretin is a chemical in the brain that controls wakefulness.
What causes this reduction in hypocretin is yet unknown but some reasons suggested are insufficient genes cause fall in production of this chemical or it may be due to the immune system inadvertently destroying the producers.
Another anomaly found in narcoleptics is how soon they reach the REM sleep stage when falling asleep. For normal people, it takes about 90 minutes to reach (Rapid Eye Movement) stage which is characterized by vivid dreams, low muscle tone, and rapid eye movements.
For narcolepsy patients, the transition to the REM stage happens almost immediately on falling asleep and sometimes even when they are awake. This explains their hallucination symptoms and loss of muscle control.
Modafinil works best for treating narcolepsy. The symptoms can be brought under control with this medication.
Modafinil or Provigil is a eugeroic that is very effective when it comes to narcolepsy. It was approved for usage in 1998 and since then, has helped many patients in treating this debilitating disorder.It can also be used to treat shift work sleep disorder and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). This medication has very few side effects and does not put the patient on edge as most stimulants do.
It is advised to supplement narcolepsy treatment with healthy lifestyle changes to help expedite the process and reduce the number of episodes. The patient should establish a sleep routine which also includes short naps during the day.
He should also refrain from cigarettes, alcohol, and caffeine consumption. Avoiding heavy meals as far as possible should be another goal. These changes can help significantly and help the patient take back control of his life to a great extent.
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