Narcolepsy is a strange neurological disorder with conditions of excessive sleepiness during the daytime; it is a condition that also causes muscle weakness. This disorder generally begins at the age of 15 to 25 years and can cause Cataplexy (muscle weakness), Hallucinations (vivid dreams occurring while asleep) and sleep paralysis (where the sufferer cannot move or speak, and which might last for few minutes after the sleep attack).
Narcolepsy is a rare and a complex neurological disorder that is commonly misdiagnosed. A doctor will assess the symptoms of this problem very easily by conducting certain laboratory tests as well as going through the patients’ history. A person who has this disorder can fall asleep frequently irrespective of the time and place.
Generally, an overnight polysomnogram is used for monitoring the person during the sleep and it also records the necessary details about the patient’s brain waves, eye movements, body position, heart rate, breathing or the muscle activity. A genetic blood test would also be taken if needed.
The multiple sleep latency test is usually taken from the patient in the day times. The other tests include Hypocretin test which tests the Hypocretin fluid present in the spinal cord using a lumbar puncture. When there are low levels of this fluid, people get Narcolepsy which promotes wakefulness.
It can be difficult to diagnose this condition if the signs and symptoms of Narcolepsy are very mild. At times, it might take even ten to fifteen years to diagnose since the symptoms get pronounced gradually. Thus, based on the patient’s family and medical history, laboratory test results, and by physical examination, the doctors could diagnose Narcolepsy in an individual.
Narcolepsy Risk Factors
The actual root cause of Narcolepsy is not known, however scientists have identified that it occurs by a genetic mutation, which results in abnormal sleeping patterns. The genetic cells control the brain chemicals that are responsible for sleeping cycles. Certain scientists proved that Narcolepsy occurs due to the presence of low levels of the Hypocretin (fluid that surrounds the spinal cord).
The Hypocretin fluid plays a major role in regulating the wakefulness and the sleeping patterns in an individual. Thus, there are numerous factors like hereditary, infections, brain injuries, auto immune disorders or low levels of histamine that contribute to interact between REM sleeping disturbances and the neurological dysfunction.
Many genetic factors largely contribute to the causes of Narcolepsy and around eight to ten percent of people having this disorder tend to have other victims in the family. However, it is not be the only factor but is usually combined with other immune problems. Sometimes even the environmental toxic substances like pesticides, weed killers and other chemicals contribute to the causes of Narcolepsy.
This neurological disorder affects both men and women, and usually the symptom starts to appear from the teenage but it’s quite rare to be found in children under five years of age. This disorder is considered to be a lifelong condition, but some narcoleptics can change their lifestyle with proper guidance and thus greatly improve the way that the condition presents in their day to day lives.
Usually, the Narcolepsy disorder may be diagnosed at a very later stage with the symptoms such as cataplexy, hallucinations, sleep paralysis, micro sleep, and night time wakefulness, rapid entry into REM sleep and many other signs and symptoms.
The most common symptoms among them are cataplexy (muscle weakness) and extreme day time sleepiness. The patients affected with Narcolepsy tend to get these signs and symptoms when they experience deep emotional state of happiness, frustration, sadness or excitement. The symptoms may vary from person to person.
Cataplexy is a muscle weakness where there is a sudden loss of muscle tone in their body which is normally triggered by strong emotions. Hallucinations are vivid dreams that may be very sensual or frightening which occurs when they are awaken or at sleep.
Sleep Paralysis is a condition where the person is unable to move the body or unable to speak at the stage of awakening. The Micro sleep is a very short sleep that occurs less than five minutes when the person is involved in an activity.
Nighttime wakefulness is a condition where people are continuously awake the whole night, complete with fast heart rates and intense alertness. The Rapid entry into REM sleep is a condition where the person immediately reaches this stage once he falls asleep but usually it might take about ninety minutes for most of the people.
These symptoms might be either mild or even severe depending on the individual. There would be an automatic behavior of the persons affected with this disorder like falling asleep while eating or in the midst of any other activity.
Narcolepsy – Stages of the Disease
Usually, each patient affected by the Narcolepsy disorder has different symptoms that vary from person to person. The various stages involved in this disorder occur in various aspects of life. Most commonly, the physical well being of a person gets affected as he might unexpectedly fall asleep in the midst of activities like working, walking, driving, and cooking, which could be quite dangerous.
The mental health of a person is affected, which leads to depression, anxiety or stress. This can affect the social and professional relationships as well. One may think that the people affected by Narcolepsy are lazy by nature but this is not so. Due to extreme tiredness and sleepiness, impotency and low sex drive is often experienced by the victims of Narcolepsy. Even the memory and the attentive power is affected which results in forgetting things frequently.
There is no cure for the Narcolepsy disorder but the people affected by it can bring in some significant changes to their lifestyle and lead a better life. With proper medical help and guidance, patients can improve their alertness and can enjoy an active life by reducing their symptoms.