Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder that has been found in an estimated three million people in the world today. To have a chronic sleep disorder means that the signs and symptoms will gradually get worse if left untreated. In this day and age there is hope for anyone suffering with a sleep disorder, as scientists have developed many types of medications to treat any symptom associated with narcolepsy.
Narcolepsy can, however, go misdiagnosed or even undiagnosed due to lack of information on the signs and symptoms of narcolepsy. This can cause a narcoleptic person to have health issues that can be truly frightening. Narcolepsy symptoms should be reported to the doctor immediately. This means that anyone that suspects even the slightest sign of narcolepsy should get more information on the matter by visiting their local sleep clinic.
Narcolepsy Signs and Symptoms
Narcolepsy has a host of symptoms that can leave a person feeling dreadful. These symptoms can be misdiagnosed due to similarity to other ailments, leaving the patient without the proper medication and other therapies needed to cope with narcolepsy. The symptoms and signs of narcolepsy are:
E.D.S. or excessive daytime sleepiness. This is the most common complaint by people with narcolepsy. E.D.S. is exactly as it sounds, which is the feeling/need for daytime sleep and the inability to control it. E.D.S. is often made far worst if the person also has insomnia.
Cataplexy is probably the most dangerous symptom related to narcolepsy. Cataplexy is the sudden and uncontrollable loss of muscle control. This is especially dangerous if it happens when the person is driving a car or operating machinery. Usually a person with cataplexy will be walking and suddenly fall down due to the loss of muscle tone, which can result in injury. This can happen any time, day or night with warning.
Sleep paralysis is a sort of disconnection of the brain from the body. This can happen when a person is falling sleep, which is called hypnogogic, or when they are entering R.E.M. sleep or waking up, which is called hypnopompic. When this happens it leaves the person totally aware of everything in the room, but leaves them unable to speak or move. Usually hallucinations of a very frightening nature ensue during episodes of sleep paralysis. People experiencing sleep paralysis may not necessarily have narcolepsy, although it is a symptom of narcolepsy.
Hallucinations are when someone hears voices or sees things that aren’t really there. These visions can be extremely real to the person, which can cause terror to fill their mind. Hallucinations are commonly associated with sleep paralysis, but there have been cases of narcolepsy with hallucinations and no sleep paralysis.
Insomnia is another narcolepsy sign that can be independent of the disorder itself. Insomnia is the inability to sleep well during the nighttime, or when a person falls asleep, but is unable to remain asleep, causing episodes of daytime sleepiness.
There are other narcolepsy signs that are secondary to these primary symptoms. Usually the medications and therapies will work to solve these secondary signs, but only if these are paid attention to and properly diagnosed. The secondary signs of narcolepsy are:
- Poor performance in work or school
- Friendships or personal relationships suffer
With the proper treatment, narcolepsy and signs and symptoms associated with it can be managed effectively. If a person has the least idea that they may have narcolepsy, then they should act immediately by going to a sleep clinic or to their family doctor.
Narcolepsy Treatment Options
Narcolepsy symptoms can be treated by medication and therapies in the home, which most call lifestyle changes. These changes will have a positive effect on the signs and symptoms of narcolepsy, lessening the stress and strain that people go through when incidents arise. When combined with the proper medication, narcolepsy patients have been known in some cases to live practically incident free. This gives them a new lease on life by allowing them to live daily life like everyone else. These lifestyle changes are:
- Maintain a nutritious diet
- Schedule changes for better sleep management
- Planned daytime naps each lasting about 10 minutes
- Tell employers, friends, family, co-workers about this condition
- Seek counseling and support groups
- Avoid the use of alcohol, caffeinated beverages, and illegal drugs
- Take all medications as prescribed by doctor
- Write down all episodes and incidents that occur concerning this condition
With all of these changes in mind, let’s look at the list of medications which should be added to them. These include:
Stimulants help to promote a better working central nervous system. Stimulants are usually prescribed for the treatment of E.D.S. and cataplexy. Commonly prescribed stimulants are Nuvigil and Provigil. Patients with a medical history of depression or psychiatric issues should not take stimulants, as they have been known to produce intense suicidal thinking.
Antidepressants are usually prescribed to treat depression, but in narcolepsy patients it’s a common treatment for cataplexy and hallucinations associated with sleep paralysis. Common antidepressants used to treat narcolepsy symptoms are Prozac and Zoloft.
Sodium oxybate is a drug that is unlike the other drugs used in the treatment of narcolepsy. Sodium oxybate is a liquid that, when taken correctly, provides the patient with a time of peaceful sleep. This drug must be taken very strictly as prescribed to avoid accidental overdose. The best known version of this drug is Xyrem.
As with all medications, medical science works to create better versions of the medicines we use, which can cause older medications to be discontinued. The reason for this research is to provide people with a better product that has the least amount of side effects. Such is the case with the older versions of antidepressants called tricyclics. The list of side effects far outweighed the benefits of these drugs, causing them to lose popularity, although they were said to be amazing when used to treat cataplexy.