What is Narcolepsy? What are the symptoms of Narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a brain disorder. Narcolepsy is probably caused by an inability of the brain to make substances which control the sleep-wake cycle. Patients with narcolepsy have deranged ability to stay awake and stay asleep at the appropriate times. They develop interesting symptoms as a result. These symptoms include:

Excessive sleepiness
Patients with narcolepsy are excessively sleepy compared to other people. They have overwhelming feelings of sleepiness at inappropriate times, such as during conversations, while driving, at work and other times. Other disorders may also cause sleepiness. For this reason, narcolepsy should be diagnosed by an experienced sleep specialist who can exclude other causes.

Cataplexy is a sudden loss of muscle tone. It usually happens when a patient with narcolepsy experiences intense emotion. Common such emotions include laughter, telling or hearing a funny joke, surprise, or anger.

Hypnagogic hallucinations
These are intense, dream-like hallucinations which occur before sleep onset, while a person is still awake and conscious.

Sleep paralysis
Sleep paralysis is a frightening symptom. Patients with it become paralyzed and unable to move. It happens just before sleep occurs.

How is the diagnosis of narcolepsy made?
Patients who are suspected of having narcolepsy should have a consultation with a sleep specialist. Other disorders cause sleepiness; these are best excluded by a sleep specialist.

The diagnosis of narcolepsy is made by taking a history (a physician asks the patient about symptoms) and performing sleep studies.


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