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Narcolepsy is a neurological condition in which a person cannot control the amount of sleep and wakefulness. The individual experiences excessive daytime sleepiness and uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep during the day. The sudden sleep attacks can occur during the day at any time and can interfere with a person's ability to work or to get daily activities done.

Normally, we enter early stages of sleep and then go into deeper sleep stages. REM sleep occurs after about ninety minutes of sleep. Those who suffer from narcolepsy get REM sleep almost immediately and get it during the waking hours as well. During REM sleep, we usually dream and have muscle paralysis. Those with narcolepsy suffer from muscle paralysis and dreaming during drop attacks that occur during the day. Narcolepsy usually begins between the ages of fifteen and twenty five but can show up at any age. It is often misdiagnosed or undiagnosed.

What causes narcolepsy? No one knows the exact cause of narcolepsy but it is believed to have genetic relationships. The genes that control brain chemicals related to sleep are abnormal. Some doctors believe that those with narcolepsy have a deficiency in hypocretin within the brain. Other abnormalities in the brain itself are noted with some people who have narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is believed by others to be multifactorial and to cause neurological problems and disturbances in REM sleep.

Symptoms of narcolepsy include excessive sleepiness during the day. It interferes with the daily activities and does not depend on whether or not a person has had enough sleep the night before. Cataplexy is another symptom, which is a sudden loss of motor function and loss of consciousness. Cataplexy is triggered by extreme emotional outbursts. Hallucinations are also possible with narcolepsy. They can occur with a loss of consciousness or hypnagogic hallucinations or can occur during awakening. Sleep paralysis is common with narcolepsy. The individual usually rapidly recovers the ability to move when they wake up.

Narcolepsy is diagnosed by having a complete history and physical, focusing on sleep habits and symptoms surrounding sleep. There are specialized tests that can occur at a sleep laboratory. These include the polysomnogram or PSG and the multiple sleep latency test or MSLT. A polysomnogram is an overnight test that involves watching a person sleep and keeping track of REM sleep and other sleep stages. An MSLT test is done during the daytime hours. It assesses the person's ability to fall asleep without provocation and can detect the kind of sleep pattern the person goes into.

There is no real cure for narcolepsy but drug treatment can be used to combat abnormal REM sleep and sleep attacks. Drugs used are those such as amphetamines, which are stimulants that can keep the brain awake and can inhibit sleep. Antidepressant medications can also control the development of REM sleep and can keep the patient awake. A new medication, called Xyrem, is used to allow the patient to get a better night's sleep so the sleep attacks are less than if they didn't take the medication.

Lifestyle changes can help improve narcolepsy treatment and include avoiding caffeine, alcohol, heavy metals, and nicotine. You also need to schedule regular naps during the day and regulate the nighttime sleep patterns. You need to establish a normal rest, meal and exercise schedule that can also reduce the symptoms of narcolepsy you may have.

The prognosis of narcolepsy is average. It is a long lasting condition that you cannot outgrow. It isn't deadly but it can be dangerous if you have drop attacks during driving or operating heavy equipment. You can control narcolepsy with medications and lifestyle changes.

Complications of narcolepsy include injuries or accidents during drop attacks, impairment of social functioning, work functioning and activities of daily living. There can be side effects of medication used to treat the problem.

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Medical Negligence Solicitors

Our personal injury solicitors operate a specialist medical negligence compensation service. Our Narcolepsy solicitors deal with claims using a no win no fee arrangement which means that if you don�t win then you don�t pay them their professional costs. If you would like legal advice at no cost with no further obligation just complete the contact form or email our lawyers offices or use the helpline and a Narcolepsy solicitor will review your medical negligence compensation claim and phone you immediately.

HELPLINE: ☎ 1800 633 634

The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here