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Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy

Definition

Narcolepsy is a disorder of the nervous system marked by excessive daytime sleepiness, uncontrollable sleep attacks, and cataplexy (a sudden loss of muscle tone, usually lasting up to half an hour). The American Psychiatric Association (APA) classifies narcolepsy as a sleep disorder in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-IV. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) defines narcolepsy as a "disorder caused by the brain's inability to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally." The disorder is sometimes called Gélineau's syndrome because it was first identified in 1880 by the French neurologist Jean-Baptiste Gélineau. The word narcolepsy itself comes from two Greek words that together mean "seized by sleepiness."

Description

Narcolepsy is the second-leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness (after obstructive sleep apnea). Persistent sleepiness and sleep attacks are the hallmarks of this condition. The sleepiness has been compared to the feeling of trying to stay awake after not sleeping for two or three days. It is not correct, however, to describe people with narcolepsy as sleeping longer or spending more time asleep in a 24-hour period than people without the disorder. Although patients with narcolepsy experience drowsiness and sleep attacks during the daytime, they also wake up frequently during the nighttime hours. For this reason, narcolepsy is more accurately described as a disorder of the normal boundaries between sleep and wakefulness.

People with narcolepsy fall asleep suddenlyanywhere, at any time, maybe even in the middle of a conversation. These sleep attacks can last from a few seconds to more than an hour. Depending on where they occur, they may be mildly inconvenient or even dangerous. Some people continue to function outwardly during the sleep episodes, such as talking or putting things away. But when they wake up, they have no memory of the event.

Narcolepsy is related to the deep, dreaming part of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Normally when people fall asleep, they experience 80 to 100 minutes of non-REM sleep, which is then followed by about 20 minutes of REM sleep. People with narcolepsy, however, enter REM sleep immediately. In addition, REM sleep occurs inappropriately throughout the day in patients with narcolepsy.

Demographics

There has been considerable debate in the early 2000s over the incidence of narcolepsy. Some researchers think the disorder is underdiagnosed. According to NINDS, the disorder affects one American in every 2000, or about 135,000 people in the general United States population. However, the rates in other countries vary considerably, from one in 600 people in Japan to one in 500,000 in Israel. The reasons for these variations in different ethnic groups are not yet fully understood.

Males and females seem to experience this disorder at about the same rate.

Narcolepsy is a somewhat unusual disorder in terms of age distribution. Although the disorder has been identified in children as young as three years of age, most patients with narcolepsy are diagnosed either between the ages of ten and 25 or between the ages of 40 and 45. It is uncommon for a person to develop the signs of narcolepsy for the first time after age 55.

Causes and symptoms

Causes

In 1999 researchers identified the gene that causes narcolepsy on chromosome 12. The gene allows cells in the hypothalamus (the part of the brain that regulates sleep behavior) to receive messages from other cells. When this gene is abnormal, cells cannot communicate properly, and abnormal sleeping patterns develop. However, not everyone who has the gene develops narcolepsy; between 12 percent and 35 percent of the United States population is thought to carry the gene but only 0.02 percent develop the disorder. Narcolepsy sometimes clusters in families; first-degree relatives of a person diagnosed with the disorder have a 1 percent to 2 percent risk of developing narcolepsy themselves, or about 10 to 40 times the risk of a person in the general population.

In the late 1990s, three independent research groups discovered a neuropeptide system in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates body temperature and appetite. The newly discovered system, which has been called the hypocretinergic system, regulates sleep and wakefulness. The nerve cells, or neurons, in this part of the hypothalamus secrete substances known as hypocretins or orexins, which regulate the sleep/wake cycle in humans. There are two of these compounds, known as orexin-A and orexin-B, or as hypocretin-1 and hypocretin-2. As of the early 2000s, narcolepsy is thought to be an orexin deficiency syndrome; that is, it develops when a person's hypothalamus does not secrete enough orexins to keep the person from falling asleep at inappropriate times. Samples of cerebrospinal fluid taken from patients with narcolepsy contain little or no orexins. MRI scans of these patients indicate that there is some loss of brain tissue in the hypothalamus itself, suggesting that the neurons responsible for secreting orexins have died.

In a few cases, the first signs of narcolepsy are triggered by traumatic damage to the part of the brain that governs REM sleep or from a rapidly growing tumor that puts pressure on this region of the brain. It is also thought that the hormonal changes of puberty may affect this region of the brain in some people.

Symptoms

Narcolepsy is defined by four major symptoms:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS).
  • Cataplexy, the most dramatic symptom of narcolepsy, affecting 75 percent of people with the disorder. During an attack of cataplexy, the person's knees buckle and the neck muscles go slack. In extreme cases, the person may become paralyzed and fall to the floor. This loss of muscle tone is temporary, lasting from a few seconds to half an hour, but it is frightening to other family members or friends. Attacks of cataplexy can occur at any time but are often triggered by such strong emotions as anger, joy, or surprise.
  • Hypnagogic hallucinations, intense and sometimes terrifying experiences that occur as the person is falling asleep. The hallucinations may be either visual or auditory. They are thought to represent an intrusion of REM sleep/dreaming into the wakeful state.
  • Sleep paralysis, a frightening inability to move shortly after awakening or dozing off.

When to call the doctor

The symptoms of narcolepsy in children below the age of ten are somewhat different from the classical signs of the disorder in adolescents and adults. They may include the following (in addition to cataplexy and daytime sleepiness):

  • unexplained falls or dropping of objects
  • night terrors
  • moodiness and abrupt episodes of irritability
  • restlessness and hyperactivity
  • difficulty waking up in the morning

Children between the ages of ten and 12 frequently report falling asleep in school or being unable to pay attention during class. In some cases a sudden drop in the child's academic performance is the first indication of narcolepsy.

Parents who suspect that their child may have narcolepsy should consult a specialist (usually a pediatric neurologist) and have the child tested in a sleep clinic. Children with narcolepsy have often been misdiagnosed as having attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, while adolescents have sometimes been misdiagnosed as having substance abuse or personality disorders . The sooner narcolepsy is correctly identified, the better the child's chances of maintaining normal academic and social development.

Diagnosis

Narcolepsy is a complex disorder, and it is not always easy to identify. It takes ten years on average for an individual to be correctly diagnosed. The diagnosis of younger patients is additionally complicated by the fact that children with narcolepsy rarely have all four of the classical symptoms of the disorder as described in adults. Most often, the first symptom in children is an overwhelming feeling of fatigue. After several months or years, cataplexy and the other classical symptoms of the disorder may appear.

The child's doctor will not be able to diagnose narcolepsy on the basis of a routine physical examination. If the child has experienced both excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy, a tentative diagnosis may be made on the basis of the patient's history. In addition, the doctor may give the child or adolescent a short self-administered list of eight questions known as the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS). First published by an Australian doctor in 1991, the ESS asks the person to rate how likely they are to doze off or fall asleep in eight different situations from everyday life. A score above ten (maximum score is 24) generally indicates that the doctor should consider laboratory testing for narcolepsy.

Imaging studies are not helpful in diagnosing narcolepsy, although in some cases the doctor may order an MRI or CT scan to rule out a brain tumor or other abnormality in brain structure. Laboratory tests used to evaluate a person for narcolepsy include an overnight polysomnogram (a test in which sleep is monitored with electrocardiography, a video camera, and respiratory parameters). A multiple sleep latency test, which measures sleep latency (onset) and how quickly REM sleep occurs, may also be used. People who have narcolepsy usually fall asleep much more rapidly that people without the disorder, often in less than five minutes.

If the diagnosis is still questionable, a genetic blood test can reveal the existence of certain substances in people who have a tendency to develop narcolepsy. Positive test results suggest but do not prove that the person has narcolepsy. As of the early 2000s, the diagnosis of narcolepsy also can be confirmed by taking a sample of the patient's cerebrospinal fluid by a spinal tap and testing it for the presence of hypocretin-1. Patients with narcolepsy have no hypocretin-1 in their spinal fluid.

Treatment

There is no cure for narcolepsy. The disorder is neither progressive nor fatal, but it is chronic. The symptoms, however, can be managed with a combination of medications and lifestyle adjustments. Amphetamine-like stimulant drugs are often prescribed to control drowsiness and sleep attacks. Patients who do not like taking high doses of stimulants may choose to take smaller doses and make adjustments in their lifestyles, such as napping every couple of hours, to relieve daytime sleepiness. Antidepressants are also often effective in treating symptoms of abnormal REM sleep.

Newer nonamphetamine wake-promoting drugs are available to treat narcolepsy. These medications lack the unpleasant side effects of amphetamines, particularly jitteriness and anxiety . Modafinil (Provigil) is the most commonly prescribed of the newer psychostimulants. As of 2004, however, researchers do not know exactly how modafinil prevents the drowsiness associated with narcolepsy. Its most common side effect is headache . A study published in 2003 reported that modafinil appears to be safe for use in children.

With discovery of the gene that causes narcolepsy, researchers are hopeful that therapies can eventually be designed to relieve the symptoms of the disorder.

Alternative treatment

The botanical remedy yohimbe (Pausinystalia yohimbe ) may be useful in promoting alertness. As with any herbal preparation or medication, however, individuals should check with their healthcare professional before taking the remedy to treat narcolepsy.

Nutritional concerns

Children with narcolepsy sometimes fall asleep while eating, but the disorder itself does not cause or lead to malnutrition . Adolescents should be advised to avoid tobacco, caffeine , and alcoholic beverages, as these substances can increase daytime sleepiness in patients with narcolepsy.

Prognosis

The symptoms of narcolepsy are more severe when they develop in children than when they emerge in adult life. Narcolepsy is not a degenerative disease, however, and patients do not develop other neurologic symptoms. In fact, older patients often report that their symptoms decrease in severity after age 60. Apart from falls or other accidents, narcolepsy does not affect a person's life expectancy. It can, however, severely interfere with a young person's ability to study, play , participate in sports and other social activities, and develop close relationships with others. The sooner it is diagnosed and treated, the better the child's outlook for a happy and productive adult life.

Prevention

There is no way to prevent narcolepsy as of the early 2000s.

Parental concerns

Narcolepsy can affect a family in a number of ways before it is diagnosed. Younger children are at risk of injuring themselves by falling, and adolescents with driving privileges are at high risk of automobile accidents. Poor performance in school and difficulty making friends as a result of irritability or embarrassment over sleep attacks can have a lasting impact on a child's chances of preparation for college or the choice of a challenging and satisfying line of work. In many cases the child is accused of being lazy or stupid, which can have devastating effects on his or her self-esteem . Misdiagnoses can lead to inappropriate treatment and psychological depression for the affected child. In addition, sleep attacks and cataplexy can be frightening to other family members who witness them.

KEY TERMS

Cataplexy A symptom of narcolepsy in which there is a sudden episode of muscle weakness triggered by emotions. The muscle weakness may cause the person's knees to buckle, or the head to drop. In severe cases, the patient may become paralyzed for a few seconds to minutes.

Hypocretins Chemicals secreted in the hypothalamus that regulate the sleep/wake cycle.

Hypothalamus A part of the forebrain that controls heartbeat, body temperature, thirst, hunger, body temperature and pressure, blood sugar levels, and other functions.

Orexin Another name for hypocretin, a chemical secreted in the hypothalmus that regulates the sleep/wake cycle. Narcolepsy is sometimes described as an orexin deficiency syndrome.

Sleep paralysis An abnormal episode of sleep in which the patient cannot move for a few minutes, usually occurring on falling asleep or waking up. Often found in patients with narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy can be particularly stressful for a family when the affected child reaches adolescence , because of peer pressure to experiment with smoking and recreational drugs, and because of resentment about restrictions on learning to drive or use of the family car. Families with a child diagnosed with narcolepsy should consider joining a support group for people affected by the disorder.

Resources

BOOKS

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., Text Revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2000.

"Sleep Disorders: Narcolepsy." Section 14, Chapter 173 in The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. Edited by Mark H. Beers, and Robert Berkow. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories, 2002.

PERIODICALS

Beuckmann, C. T., and M. Yanagisawa. "Orexins: From Neuropeptides to Energy Homeostasis and Sleep/Wake Regulation." Journal of Molecular Medicine 80 (June 2002): 32942.

Ivanenko, A., R. Tauman, and D. Gozal. "Modafinil in the Treatment of Excessive Daytime Sleepiness in Children." Sleep Medicine 4 (November 2003): 57982.

Kotagal, S. "Sleep Disorders in Childhood." Neurologic Clinics 21 (November 2003): 96181.

Ohayon, M. M., et al. "Prevalence of Narcolepsy Symptomatology and Diagnosis in the European General Population." Neurology 58 (June 25, 2002): 182633.

Silvestri, A. J., et al. "The Central Nucleus of the Amygdala and the Wake-Promoting Effects of Modafinil." Brain Research 941 (June 21, 2002): 4352.

ORGANIZATIONS

American Sleep Disorders Association. 1610 14th St. NW, Suite 300, Rochester, MN 55901. Web site: <www.sleepapnea.org>.

Narcolepsy Network. PO Box 42460, Cincinnati, OH 45242. Web site: <www.narcolepsynetwork.org>.

National Center on Sleep Disorders Research. Two Rockledge Centre, 6701 Rockledge Dr., Bethesda, MD 20892. Web site: <www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/sleep>.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). National Institutes of Health. 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892. Web site: <http://www.ninds.nih.gov>.

National Sleep Foundation. 1522 K St., NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20005. Web site: <www.sleepfoundation.org>.

Stanford Center for Narcolepsy. 1201 Welch Rd-Rm P-112, Stanford, CA 94305. Web site: <http://blackdogstudieos.com/portfolio/Web/narcolepsy>.

University of Illinois Center for Narcolepsy Research. 845S. Damen Ave., Chicago, IL 60612. Web site: <www.uic.edu/depts./cnr/>

WEB SITES

Baker, Matthew J., and Selim R. Benbadis. "Narcolepsy." eMedicine, October 4, 2004. Available online at <www.emedicine.com/neuro/topic522.htm> (accessed January 14, 2005).

OTHER

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Narcolepsy Fact Sheet. Bethesda, MD: NINDS, 2003.

Michelle Lee Brandt

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"Narcolepsy." Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health: Infancy through Adolescence. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Narcolepsy." Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health: Infancy through Adolescence. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/narcolepsy

"Narcolepsy." Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health: Infancy through Adolescence. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/narcolepsy

Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy

Definition

Narcolepsy is a disorder marked by excessive daytime sleepiness, uncontrollable sleep attacks, and cataplexy (a sudden loss of muscle tone, usually lasting up to half an hour).

Description

Narcolepsy is the second-leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness (after obstructive sleep apnea ). Persistent sleepiness and sleep attacks are the hallmarks of this condition. The sleepiness has been compared to the feeling of trying to stay awake after not sleeping for two or three days.

People with narcolepsy fall asleep suddenlyany-where, at any time, even in the middle of a conversation. These sleep attacks can last from a few seconds to more than an hour. Depending on where the sleep attacks occur, they may be mildly inconvenient or even dangerous to the person, particularly if they occur while driving. Some people continue to function outwardly during the sleep episodes, such as continuing a conversation or putting things away. But when they wake up, they have no memory of the event.

Sleep researchers have identified several different types of sleep in humans. One type of sleep is called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, because the person's eyes move rapidly back and forth underneath the closed eyelids. REM sleep is associated with dreaming. Normally, when people fall asleep, they experience 90 minutes of non-REM sleep, which is then followed by a phase of REM sleep. People with narcolepsy, however, enter REM sleep immediately. In addition, REM sleep occurs inappropriately throughout the day in patients with narcolepsy.

Demographics

There has been debate over the incidence of narcolepsy. It is thought to affect between one in every 1,0002,000 Americans. The known prevalence in other countries varies, from one in 600 in Japan to one in 500,000 in Israel. The reasons for these demographic differences are not clear. In about 812% of cases, people diagnosed with narcolepsy know of other family members with similar symptoms.

Causes and symptoms

One of the causes of narcolepsy is a genetic mutation. In 1999, researchers identified the gene that causes the disorder. The narcolepsy gene allows cells in the hypothalamus (the part of the brain that regulates sleep behavior) to receive messages from other cells. As a result of the mutation, the cells cannot communicate properly, and abnormal sleeping patterns develop.

Researchers are also looking into the possibility that narcolepsy may be caused by some kind of autoimmune disorder. This theory suggests that the person's immune system accidentally turns against the specific area of the brain that controls alertness and sleep, injuring or destroying it.

The disorder sometimes runs in families, but most people with narcolepsy have no family members with the disorder. Researchers believe that the inheritance of narcolepsy is similar to that of heart disease, in which several genes play a role in being susceptible to the disorder. But heart disease does not usually develop without an environmental trigger of some sort.

While the symptoms of narcolepsy usually appear during a person's late teens or early 20s, the disease may not be diagnosed for many years. Most often, the first symptom is an overwhelming feeling of fatigue . After several months or years, cataplexy and other symptoms of the disorder appear.

Cataplexy is the most dramatic symptom of narcolepsy, affecting 75% of people with the disorder. During attacks, the knees buckle and the neck muscles go slack. In extreme cases, the person may become paralyzed and fall to the floor. This loss of muscle tone is temporary, lasting from a few seconds to half an hour, but it is frightening.

The attacks can occur at any time, but are often triggered by strong emotions such as anger, joy, or surprise.

Other symptoms of narcolepsy include:

  • sleep attacks: short, uncontrollable sleep episodes throughout the day
  • sleep paralysis: a frightening inability to move shortly after awakening or dozing off
  • auditory or visual hallucinations: intense, sometimes terrifying experiences at the beginning or end of a sleep period
  • disturbed nighttime sleep: tossing and turning, nightmares, and frequent awakenings during the night

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of narcolepsy can be made by a general practitioner familiar with the disorder as well as by a psychiatrist. If a person comes to the doctor with reports of both excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy, a diagnosis may be made on the patient's history alone. Laboratory tests, however, can confirm a diagnosis of narcolepsy. These tests may include an overnight polysomnogram, which is a test in which sleep is monitored with a variety of electrodes that record information about heart rate, eye movements, brain waves, muscle activity, breathing, changes in blood oxygen concentration, and body position. A multiple sleep latency test, which measures sleep latency (onset) and how quickly REM sleep occurs, may also be used. People who have narcolepsy usually fall asleep in less than five minutes.

If the diagnosis is still open to question, a genetic blood test can reveal the existence of certain substances in people who have a tendency to develop narcolepsy. Positive test results suggest, but do not prove, that the patient has narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy is a complex disorder, and it is often misdiagnosed. Many people with the disorder struggle with symptoms for an average of 14 years before being correctly diagnosed.

Treatment team

Sleep disorder specialists are experts in management of narcolepsy. Other team members may include neurologists, psychiatrists, or psychologists.

Treatment

There is no cure for narcolepsy. It is not progressive, and it is not fatal, but it is a chronic disorder. The symptoms can be managed with lifestyle adjustments and/or medication.

People with narcolepsy must plan their days carefully. Scheduling regular naps (either several short, 15-minute naps or one long nap in the afternoon) can help boost alertness and wakefulness. A full eight hours of nighttime sleep should also be a goal. Exercise can often help people with narcolepsy feel more alert and energetic, although they should avoid exercising within a few hours of bedtime. Substances that contain alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine should be avoided because they can interfere with refreshing sleep and with daytime alertness.

Medications for narcolepsy may include the use of antidepressants (tricyclic antidepressants or selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors [SSRIs]) to treat such symptoms of the disorder as cataplexy, hypnagogic hallucinations, and/or sleep paralysis.

Stimulants (amphetamines) may also be used to help individuals with narcolepsy stay awake and alert.

With the recent discovery of the gene that causes narcolepsy, researchers are hopeful that other treatments can be designed to relieve the symptoms of the disorder.

Clinical trials

A number of clinical trials are underway to investigate a number of drugs that may help improve daytime sleepiness in narcolepsy patients. For more information visit <http://www.clinicaltrials.gov>.

Prognosis

Narcolepsy is not a degenerative disease, and patients do not develop other neurologic symptoms. Narcolepsy can, however, interfere with a person's ability to work, play, drive, socialize, and perform other daily activities. In severe cases, the disorder prevents people from living a normal life, leading to depression and a loss of independence.

Resources

PERIODICALS

Mignot, E. "Genetics of Narcolepsy and Other Sleep Disorders." American Journal of Human Genetics 60 (1997): 12891302.

Siegel, Jeremy M. "Narcolepsy." Scientific American (January 2000).

ORGANIZATIONS

American Academy of Sleep Medicine. 6301 Bandel Rd. NW, Suite 101, Rochester, MN 55901. (507) 287-6008. (March 23, 2004). <http://www.aasmnet.org>.

American Sleep Disorders Association. 1610 14th St. NW, Suite 300, Rochester, MN 55901. (507) 287-6006.

Narcolepsy Network. P. O. Box 42460, Cincinnati, OH 45242. (973) 276-0115.

National Center on Sleep Disorders Research. Two Rockledge Centre, 6701 Rockledge Drive, Bethesda, MD 20892. (301) 435-0199.

National Sleep Foundation. 1522 K St., NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20005. (202) 785-2300. (March 23, 2004). <http://www.sleepfoundation.org>.

Stanford Center for Narcolepsy. 1201 Welch Road, Room P-112, Stanford, CA 94305. (415) 725-6517.

University of Illinois Center for Narcolepsy Research. 845 S. Damen Ave., Chicago, IL 60612. (312) 996-5176.

OTHER

Stanford Researchers Nab Narcolepsy Gene For Sleep Disorders. Stanford University Medical Center. Cited August 5, 1999 (March 23, 2004). <http://www.stanford.edu/%7Edement/ngene.html>.

Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD

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Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy

Definition

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by uncontrollable episodes of sleepiness during the day. Episodes can last from a few seconds to more than an hour and can significantly interfere with daily activities.

Description

People with narcolepsy often fall asleep suddenly, anywhere at any time, even in the middle of a conversation. They may sleep for just a few seconds or for up to a half hour, and then reawaken feeling alert until they fall asleep again. The condition affects one of every 2,000 Americans. Sleep apnea (difficulty in breathing while sleeping) is the leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness. Narcolepsy is the second leading cause.

The attacks of sleepiness that are the hallmark of this condition may be mildly inconvenient or deeply disturbing. Some people continue to function during the sleep episodes, even talking and putting things away, but will reawaken with no memory of what they had been doing while briefly asleep.

Narcolepsy is related to the dreaming part of sleep known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Normally, people fall asleep for about 90 minutes of non-REM sleep followed by REM sleep. However, people with narcolepsy enter REM sleep immediately; upon awakening, REM sleep recurs inappropriately throughout the day.

Causes & symptoms

Recent research suggests that the development of narcolepsy probably involves a combination of environmental factors and several genes, most likely those that are involved with the immune system. The exact gene pattern has not been identified as of 2002.

Cross-ethnic studies indicate significant variations in the prevalence of narcolepsy in different countries, with the Japanese having a very high rate and Israeli Jews one of the lowest in the world. A recent study of five European countries found that the prevalence of narcolepsy is higher in the United Kingdom and Germany than in Italy, Portugal, and Spain.

In the late 1990s, three independent research groups discovered a neuropeptide system in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates body temperature and appetite. The newly discovered system, which has been called the hypocretinergic system, regulates sleep and wakefulness. The nerve cells, or neurons, in this part of the hypothalamus secrete substances known as hypocretins or orexins, which regulate the sleep/wake cycle in humans. There are two of these compounds, known as orexin-A and orexin-B, or as hypocretin-1 and hypocretin-2. As of 2002, narcolepsy is thought to be an orexin deficiency syndrome; that is, it develops when a person's hypothalamus does not secrete enough orexins to keep the person from falling asleep at inappropriate times. Samples of cerebrospinal fluid taken from patients with narcolepsy contain little or no orexins. MRI scans of these patients indicate that there is some loss of brain tissue in the hypothalamus itself, suggesting that the neurons responsible for secreting orexins have died.

Symptoms of narcolepsy typically appear during adolescence; however, studies have shown that they may also begin in childhood. The disorder itself may not be diagnosed for many years after the first appearance of symptoms. The primary symptom is an overwhelming feeling of fatigue , together with sleep attacks that may occur with or without warning. About 75% of patients also experience cataplexy, a sudden loss of muscle control lasting a few seconds to 30 minutes resulting in physical collapse without any loss of consciousness. Episodes of narcolepsy can be triggered by emotions such as laughter, fear, or anger. Other symptoms include sleep paralysis and hypnogogic (vivid) hallucinations as the person wakes up or falls asleep. Some patients may also have trouble staying asleep at night.

Diagnosis

If a person has both excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy, narcolepsy can be diagnosed on the basis of patient history alone. Lab tests, however, can confirm a diagnosis. Tests at a sleep disorders clinic include an overnight polysomnogram (sleep is monitored with electrocardiography, video and respiratory parameters) followed by a Multiple Sleep Latency Test, which measures sleep onset and how quickly REM sleep occurs. In narcolepsy, sleep latency is usually less than five minutes. First REM period latency is also abnormally short.

A genetic blood test can reveal certain antigens in people who have a tendency to develop narcolepsy. Positive blood test results suggest, but do not prove, the existence of narcolepsy.

As of 2002, the diagnosis of narcolepsy can be confirmed by taking a sample of the patient's cerebrospinal fluid by a spinal tap, and testing it for the presence of hypocretin-1. Patients with narcolepsy have no hypocretin-1 in their spinal fluid.

Treatment

Several short naps scheduled throughout the day may help relieve some of the sleepiness associated with narcolepsy. The botanical remedy yohimbe (Pausinystalia yohimbe ) may also be useful in promoting alertness. As with any herbal preparation or medication, individuals should check with their healthcare professional before taking the remedy to treat narcolepsy.

Allopathic treatment

Patients can be treated with amphetamine-like stimulant drugs (Dexedrine) to control drowsiness and sleep attacks. The symptoms of abnormal REM sleep (cataplexy, sleep paralysis, and hypnagogic hallucinations) are treated with antidepressants.

Newer nonamphetamine wake-promoting drugs are now available to treat narcolepsy. These medications lack the unpleasant side effects of amphetamines, particularly jitteriness and anxiety . Modafinil (Provigil) is the most commonly prescribed of the newer psychostimulants. As of 2002, however, researchers do not know exactly how modafinil prevents the drowsiness associated with narcolepsy.

Patients who do not like taking high doses of stimulants may choose to nap every couple of hours to relieve daytime sleepiness and take smaller doses of stimulants.

Expected results

Narcolepsy can be a devastating disease that impairs a person's ability to work, play, and engage in meaningful activities. In severe cases, an inability to work and drive can interfere with daily life, leading to depression and a loss of independence. Drug treatments can ease symptoms but will not cure the disease. Narcolepsy is not a degenerative disease, and patients are not expected to develop new neurologic symptoms. Life span is normal if common sense is exercised regarding such hazards as automobile accidents.

Resources

PERIODICALS

Beuckmann, C. T., and M. Yanagisawa. "Orexins: From Neuropeptides to Energy Homeostasis and Sleep/Wake Regulation." Journal of Molecular Medicine 80 (June 2002): 329-342.

Kaufmann, C., A. Schuld, T. Pollmacher, and D. P. Auer. "Reduced Cortical Gray Matter in Narcolepsy: Preliminary Findings with Voxel-Based Morphometry." Neurology 58 (June 25, 2002): 1852-1855.

Mazza, M., V. Faia, N. Paciello, et al. "Sleep Disorders in Childhood: A Review." La Clinica Terapeutica 153 (May-June 2002): 189-193.

Ohayon, M. M., R. G. Priest, J. Zulley, et al. "Prevalence of Narcolepsy Symptomatology and Diagnosis in the European General Population." Neurology 58 (June 25, 2002): 1826-1833.

Silvestri, A. J., L. D. Sanford, R. J. Ross, et al. "The Central Nucleus of the Amygdala and the Wake-Promoting Effects of Modafinil." Brain Research 941 (June 21, 2002): 43-52.

Smart, D., and J. Jerman. "The Physiology and Pharmacology of the Orexins." Pharmacology and Therapeutics 94 (April-May 2002): 51.

Stahl, S. M. "Awakening to the Psychopharmacology of Sleep and Arousal: Novel Neurotransmitters and Wake-Promoting Drugs." Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 63 (June 2002): 467-468.

Sutcliffe, J. G., and L. de Lecea. "The Hypocretins: Setting the Arousal Threshold." Nature Reviews. Neuroscience 3 (May 2002): 339-349.

Wing, Y. K., R. H. Li, C. W. Lam, et al. "The Prevalence of Narcolepsy Among Chinese in Hong Kong." Annals of Neurology 51 (May 2002): 578-584.

ORGANIZATIONS

Narcolepsy Network. 10921 Reed Hartman Highway, Cincinnati, OH 45242. (513) 891-3522. http://www.websciences.org/narnet/.

National Sleep Foundation. 1522 K Street, NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20005. (202) 347-3471. nsf@sleepfoundation.org. http://www.sleepfoundation.org.

Stanford Center for Narcolepsy. Stanford University School of Medicine, 701-B Welch Road, Room 146. Palo Alto, CA 94304. (650) 725-6517. http://www-med.stanford.edu/school/Psychiatry/narcolepsy.

Paula Ford-Martin

Rebecca J. Frey, PhD

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Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy

Definition

Narcolepsy is a disorder marked by excessive daytime sleepiness, uncontrollable sleep attacks, and cataplexy (a sudden loss of muscle tone, usually lasting up to half an hour).

Description

Narcolepsy is the second-leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness (after obstructive sleep apnea). Persistent sleepiness and sleep attacks are the hallmarks of this condition. The sleepiness has been compared to the feeling of trying to stay awake after not sleeping for two or three days.

People with narcolepsy fall asleep suddenlyanywhere, at any time, even in the middle of a conversation. These sleep attacks can last from a few seconds to more than an hour. Depending on where the sleep attacks occur, they may be mildly inconvenient or even dangerous to the person, particularly if they occur while he or she is driving. Some people continue to function outwardly during the sleep episodes, such as continuing a conversation or putting things away. But when they wake up, they have no memory of the event.

Sleep researchers have identified several different types of sleep in humans. One type of sleep is called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, because the person's eyes move rapidly back and forth underneath the closed eyelids. REM sleep is associated with dreaming. Normally, when people fall asleep, they experience 90 minutes of non-REM sleep, which is then followed by a phase of REM sleep. People with narcolepsy, however, enter REM sleep immediately. In addition, REM sleep occurs inappropriately in patients with narcolepsy throughout the day.

Causes and symptoms

Causes

One of the causes of narcolepsy is a genetic mutation. In 1999 researchers identified the gene that causes the disorder. The narcolepsy gene allows cells in the hypothalamus (the part of the brain that regulates sleep behavior) to receive messages from other cells. As a result of the mutation, the cells cannot communicate properly, and abnormal sleeping patterns develop.

Other researchers are also looking into the possibility that narcolepsy may be caused by some kind of autoimmune disorder. This theory suggests that the person's immune system accidentally turns against the specific area of the brain that controls alertness and sleep, injuring or destroying it.

The disorder sometimes runs in families, but most people with narcolepsy have no relatives with the disorder. Researchers believe that the inheritance of narcolepsy is similar to that of heart disease. In heart disease, several genes play a role in being susceptible to the disorder, but it does not usually develop without an environmental trigger of some sort.

Symptoms

While the symptoms of narcolepsy usually appear during a person's late teens or early 20s, the disease may not be diagnosed for many years. Most often, the first symptom is an overwhelming feeling of fatigue . After several months or years, cataplexy and other symptoms of the disorder appear.

Cataplexy is the most dramatic symptom of narcolepsy, affecting 75% of people with the disorder. During attacks, the knees buckle and the neck muscles go slack. In extreme cases, the person may become paralyzed and fall to the floor. This loss of muscle tone is temporary, lasting from a few seconds to half an hour, but it is frightening. The attacks can occur at any time but are often triggered by such strong emotions as anger, joy, or surprise.

Other symptoms of narcolepsy include:

  • sleep attacks: short, uncontrollable sleep episodes throughout the day
  • sleep paralysis: a frightening inability to move shortly after awakening or dozing off
  • auditory or visual hallucinations : intense, sometimes terrifying experiences at the beginning or end of a sleep period
  • disturbed nighttime sleep: tossing and turning, nightmares, and frequent awakenings during the night

Demographics

There has been debate over the incidence of narcolepsy. It is thought to affect between one in every 1,000 to 2,000 Americans. The known prevalence in other countries varies, from one in 600 in Japan to one in 500,000 in Israel. The reasons for these demographic differences are not clear. In about 812% of cases, people diagnosed with narcolepsy know of other family members with similar symptoms.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of narcolepsy can be made by a general practitioner familiar with the disorder as well as by a psychiatrist . If a person comes to the doctor with reports of both excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy, a diagnosis may be made on the patient's history alone. Laboratory tests, however, can confirm a diagnosis of narcolepsy. These tests may include an overnight polysomnogram a test in which sleep is monitored with a variety of electrodes that record information about heart rate, eye movements, brain waves, muscle activity, breathing, changes in blood oxygen concentration, and body position. A Multiple Sleep Latency Test, which measures sleep latency (onset) and how quickly REM sleep occurs, may also be used. People who have narcolepsy usually fall asleep in less than five minutes.

If the diagnosis is still open to question, a genetic blood test can reveal the existence of certain substances in people who have a tendency to develop narcolepsy. Positive test results suggest, but do not prove, that the patient has narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy is a complex disorder, and it is often misdiagnosed. Many people with the disorder struggle with symptoms for an average of 14 years before being correctly diagnosed.

Treatment

There is no cure for narcolepsy. It is not progressive, and it is not fatal, but it is a chronic disorder. The symptoms can be managed with lifestyle adjustments and/or medication.

People with narcolepsy must plan their days carefully. Scheduling regular naps (either several short, fifteen-minute naps or one long nap in the afternoon) can help boost alertness and awakeness. A full eight hours of nighttime sleep should also be a goal. Exercise can often help people with narcolepsy feel more alert and energetic, although they should avoid exercising within a few hours of bedtime. Substances that contain alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine should be avoided because they can interfere with refreshing sleep and with daytime alertness.

Medications for narcolepsy may include the use of antidepressants (tricyclic antidepressants or selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors) to treat such symptoms of the disorder as cataplexy, hypnagogic hallucinations, and/or sleep paralysis.

Stimulants (amphetamines ) may also be used to help individuals with narcolepsy stay awake and alert.

With the recent discovery of the gene that causes narcolepsy, researchers are hopeful that other treatments can be designed to relieve the symptoms of the disorder.

Prognosis

Narcolepsy is not a degenerative disease, and patients do not develop other neurologic symptoms. Narcolepsy can, however, interfere with a person's ability to work, play, drive, socialize, and perform other daily activities. In severe cases, the disorder prevents people from living a normal life, leading to depression and a loss of independence.

Prevention

As of 2002, narcolepsy is not a preventable disorder.

Resources

PERIODICALS

Mignot, E. "Genetics of Narcolepsy and Other Sleep Disorders." American Journal of Human Genetics 60(1997): 1289-1302.

Siegel, Jeremy M. "Narcolepsy." Scientific American (January 2000). Available at: <http://www.sciam.com/2000/0100issue/0100siegel.html>.

ORGANIZATIONS

American Academy of Sleep Medicine. 6301 Bandel Rd. NW, Suite 101 Rochester, MN 55901. (507) 287-6008. www.aasmnet.org.

American Sleep Disorders Association. 1610 14th St. NW, Suite 300, Rochester, MN 55901. (507) 287-6006.

Narcolepsy Network. PO Box 42460, Cincinnati, OH 45242. (973) 276- 0115.

National Center on Sleep Disorders Research. Two Rockledge Centre, 6701 Rockledge Dr., Bethesda, MD 20892. (301) 435-0199.

National Sleep Foundation. 1522 K St., NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20005. (202) 785-2300. <http://www.sleepfoundation.org>.

Stanford Center for Narcolepsy. 1201 Welch Rd-Rm P-112, Stanford, CA 94305. (415) 725-6517.

University of Illinois Center for Narcolepsy Research. 845 S. Damen Ave., Chicago, IL 60612. (312) 996-5176.

OTHER

"Stanford Researchers Nab Narcolepsy Gene For Sleep Disorders." Stanford University Medical Center. [August 5, 1999]. <http://www.stanford.edu/%7Edement/ngene.html>.

Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, M.D.

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Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy

Definition

Narcolepsy is a disorder marked by excessive daytime sleepiness, uncontrollable sleep attacks, and cataplexy (a sudden loss of muscle tone, usually lasting up to half an hour).

Description

Narcolepsy is the second-leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness (after obstructive sleep apnea). Persistent sleepiness and sleep attacks are the hallmarks of this condition. The sleepiness has been compared to the feeling of trying to stay awake after not sleeping for two or three days.

People with narcolepsy fall asleep suddenlyanywhere, at any time, maybe even in the middle of a conversation. These sleep attacks can last from a few seconds to more than an hour. Depending on where they occur, they may be mildly inconvenient or even dangerous to the individual. Some people continue to function outwardly during the sleep episodes, such as talking or putting things away. But when they wake up, they have no memory of the event.

Narcolepsy is related to the deep, dreaming part of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Normally when people fall asleep, they experience 90 minutes of non-REM sleep, which is then followed by REM sleep. People with narcolepsy, however, enter REM sleep immediately. In addition, REM sleep occurs inappropriately throughout the day.

There has been debate over the incidence of narcolepsy. It is thought to affect between one in every 1,000 to 2,000 Americans. The known prevalence in other countries varies, from one in 600 in Japan to one in 500,000 in Israel. Reasons for these differences are not clear.

Causes and symptoms

In 1999 researchers identified the gene that causes narcolepsy. The gene allows cells in the hypothalamus (the part of the brain that regulates sleep behavior) to receive messages from other cells. When this gene is abnormal, cells cannot communicate properly, and abnormal sleeping patterns develop.

The disorder sometimes runs in families, but most people with narcolepsy have no relatives with the disorder. Researchers believe that the inheritance of narcolepsy is similar to that of heart disease. In heart disease, several genes play a role in being susceptible to the disorder, but it usually does not develop without an environmental trigger of some sort.

While the symptoms of narcolepsy usually appear during the teens or 20s, the disease may not be diagnosed for many years. Most often, the first symptom is an overwhelming feeling of fatigue. After several months or years, cataplexy and other symptoms appear.

Cataplexy is the most dramatic symptom of narcolepsy. It affects 75% of people with the disorder. During attacks, the knees buckle and the neck muscles go slack. In extreme cases, the person may become paralyzed and fall to the floor. This loss of muscle tone is temporary, lasting from a few seconds to half an hour, but frightening. The attacks can occur at any time but are often triggered by strong emotions, such as anger, joy, or surprise.

Other symptoms of narcolepsy include:

  • sleep attacks: short, uncontrollable sleep episodes throughout the day
  • sleep paralysis : a frightening inability to move shortly after awakening or dozing off
  • auditory or visual hallucinations : intense, sometimes terrifying experiences at the beginning or end of a sleep period
  • disturbed nighttime sleep: tossing and turning, nightmares, and frequent awakenings during the night

Diagnosis

If a person experiences both excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy, a diagnosis may be made on the patient history alone. Laboratory tests, however, can confirm a diagnosis. These may include an overnight polysomnograma test in which sleep is monitored with electrocardiography, video, and respiratory parameters. A Multiple Sleep Latency Test, which measures sleep latency (onset) and how quickly REM sleep occurs, may be used. People who have narcolepsy usually fall asleep in less than five minutes.

If a diagnosis is in question, a genetic blood test can reveal the existence of certain substances in people who have a tendency to develop narcolepsy. Positive test results suggest, but do not prove, the existence of narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy is a complex disorder, and it is often misdiagnosed. It takes 14 years, on average, for an individual to be correctly diagnosed.

Treatment

There is no cure for narcolepsy. It is not progressive, and it is not fatal, but it is chronic. The symptoms can be managed with medication or lifestyle adjustment. Amphetamine-like stimulant drugs are often prescribed to control drowsiness and sleep attacks. A drug called sodium oxybate (Xyrem) was tested for use in 2004 and was shown to reduce daytime sleepiness as well as cataplexy attacks when used along with stimulants. Patients who do not like taking high doses of stimulants may choose to take smaller doses and "manage" their lifestyles, such as by napping every few hours to relieve daytime sleepiness. Antidepressants are often effective in treating symptoms of abnormal REM sleep.

With the recent discovery of the gene that causes narcolepsy, researchers are hopeful that therapies can be designed to relieve the symptoms of the disorder.

Prognosis

Narcolepsy is not a degenerative disease, and patients do not develop other neurologic symptoms. However, narcolepsy can interfere with a person's ability to work, play, drive, and perform other daily activities. In severe cases, the disorder prevents people from living a normal life, leading to depression and a loss of independence.

KEY TERMS

Cataplexy A symptom of narcolepsy in which there is a sudden episode of muscle weakness triggered by emotions. The muscle weakness may cause the person's knees to buckle, or the head to drop. In severe cases, the patient may become paralyzed for a few seconds to minutes.

Hypnagogic hallucinations Dream-like auditory or visual hallucinations that occur while falling asleep.

Hypothalamus A part of the forebrain that controls heartbeat, body temperature, thirst, hunger, body temperature and pressure, blood sugar levels, and other functions.

Sleep paralysis An abnormal episode of sleep in which the patient cannot move for a few minutes, usually occurring on falling asleep or waking up. Often found in patients with narcolepsy.

Resources

PERIODICALS

Siegel, Jeremy M. "Narcolepsy." Scientific American January 2000.http://www.sciam.com/2000/0100issue/0100siegel.html.

"Xyrem Study for EDS in Narcolepsy Shows Positive Data Across All Measures." Pain & Central Nervous System Week January 14, 2004: 69.

ORGANIZATIONS

American Sleep Disorders Association. 1610 14th St. NW, Suite 300, Rochester, MN 55901. (507) 287-6006.

Narcolepsy Network. PO Box 42460, Cincinnati, OH 45242. (973) 276-0115.

National Center on Sleep Disorders Research. Two Rockledge Centre, 6701 Rockledge Dr., Bethesda, MD 20892. (301) 435-0199.

National Sleep Foundation. 1522 K St., NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20005. (202) 785-2300. http://www.sleepfoundation.org.

Stanford Center for Narcolepsy. 1201 Welch Rd-Rm P-112, Stanford, CA 94305. (415) 725-6517.

University of Illinois Center for Narcolepsy Research. 845 S. Damen Ave., Chicago, IL 60612. (312) 996-5176.

OTHER

"Stanford Researchers Nab Narcolepsy Gene For SleepDisorders." Stanford University Medical Center. [cited August 5, 1999]. http://www.stanford.edu/%7Edement/ngene.html.

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Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy

A sleep disorder whose primary symptom is irresistible attacks of sleepiness during the daytime.

Narcolepsy, which usually begins in adolescence or early adulthood, affects about one in every 1,000 persons and is equally common in males and females. The sleep attacks, which can occur anywhere from six to 20 times a day, usually last about 10 to 20 minutes but can persist for as long as two to three hours. Narcolepsy is diagnosed if sleep attacks occur every day for at least three months (although most people treated for the disorder suffer from it for a much longer period of timeoften yearsbefore seeking help). In addition to the sleep attacks, persons suffering from narcolepsy often display several other characteristic symptoms. The most debilitating of these is cataplexy, a sudden loss of muscle tone that can affect a part or all of the body. Cataplectic attacks range from a sagging jaw or drooping head to a total collapse that causes the person to fall to the ground. Affecting about 70% of narcoleptics, they are usually triggered by strong emotions, ranging from fear and anger to excitement and amusement (laughter often provokes cataplectic attacks). Respiration is not affected, and full consciousness is maintained throughout the episode. Usually the attacks only last a few seconds, after which normal muscle strength returns. Other symptoms of narcolepsy include vivid dreamlike imagery while waking or falling asleep, episodes of sleep paralysis (in which the person wakes but is temporarily unable to move), and automatic behavior (sleepwalking-type actions which are performed without the person's conscious knowledge).

The cause of narcolepsy is not known, but sleep researchers believe it comes from a malfunction of the mechanism in the brain that regulates sleeping and waking, especially the regulation of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the part of the sleep cycle associated with dreaming. It is also known that there is a hereditary component to narcolepsy: having a narcoleptic parent dramatically increases one's chances of developing the disorder, from the normal 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 20. In recent research, a genetic marker has been found in the blood of over 95% of narcolepsy sufferers who were tested for it. Narcolepsy may also develop as a consequence of brain damage caused by injury or disease.

Narcolepsy is a chronic illness that lasts throughout a person's lifetime and has no known cure. Napping during the daytime can reduce the number of sleep attacks by lessening sleepiness. For those severely affected by the disorder, stimulants such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) and Dexedrine have been prescribed to ward off sleep attacks. Cataplexythought to be a partial intrusion of REM sleep into the waking statehas been treated with medications known to suppress REM sleep, such as tricyclic antidepressants . Doctors have had good results with another medication, the experimental drug gamma-hydroxybutyrate, prescribed for narcoleptics to improve the quality of their nighttime sleep, which is usually fitful and fragmented. The resulting improvement of nighttime sleep has had marked success in the reduction (and in some cases complete remission) of symptoms, including both daytime sleep attacks and cataplexy. To avoid the potential danger and embarrassment of cataleptic episodes, some persons with narcolepsy try to control the emotions that trigger them, even avoiding situations that are likely to bring on these emotions.

Narcolepsy has a crippling effect on the lives of those afflicted with it, causing disruption, embarrassment, and, potentially, danger in their everyday lives and interfering with both work and family life. Self-help groups sponsored by the American Narcolepsy Association (and a similar group in Canada) offer support to narcoleptics and their families. These organizations also work to help raise public awareness about the disorder.

Further Reading

Dement, William C. The Sleepwatchers. Stanford: Stanford Alumni Association, 1992.

Dotto, Lydia. Losing Sleep: How Your Sleeping Habits Affect Your Life. New York: William Morrow, 1990.

Ince, Susan. Sleep Disturbances. Boston: Harvard Medical School, Health Publications Groups, 1995.

Further Information

American Narcolepsy Association. 425 California Street, Suite 201, San Francisco, CA 94104, (415) 7884793.

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narcolepsy

narcolepsy, a sleep disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and recurring unwanted episodes of sleep ( "sleep attacks" ). People with narcolepsy may abruptly fall asleep at almost any time, including while talking, eating, or even walking. The attacks may range from embarrassing or inconvenient to severely disabling, interfering with a person's daily life. An estimated 125,000–250,000 people in the United States have narcolepsy; it occurs about equally in males and females.

Most people with narcolepsy also experience cataplexy, sudden muscular weakness without loss of consciousness, which usually accompanies laughter or anger. Other symptoms, occurring just after falling asleep or upon awakening, include sleep paralysis (a feeling that one cannot move) and vivid hallucinations.

The cause of narcolepsy is not known with certainty, but most people with narcolepsy have low levels of orexin (or hypocretin), a neurotransmitter that promotes wakefulness. In the case of people with narcolepsy and cataplexy, the cause appears to be an autoimmune response that attacks the brain's orexin-producing neurons. There is no cure. Treatment, including regular planned naps and the use of stimulant drugs (e.g., amphetamines) plus antidepressants for cataplexy, can help to control its symptoms.

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narcolepsy

narcolepsy (nar-kŏ-lep-si) n. an extreme tendency to fall asleep in quiet surroundings or when engaged in monotonous activities. The patient can be woken easily and is immediately alert. It is often associated with cataplexy, sleep paralysis, and hallucinations at the beginning or end of sleep.
narcoleptic adj., n.

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narcolepsy

nar·co·lep·sy / ˈnärkəˌlepsē/ • n. Med. a condition characterized by an extreme tendency to fall asleep whenever in relaxing surroundings. DERIVATIVES: nar·co·lep·tic / ˌnärkəˈleptik/ adj. & n.

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narcolepsy

narcolepsybassi, Brassey, brassie, chassis, gassy, Haile Selassie, lassie, Malagasy, Manasseh, massé, massy, sassy, TallahasseeCotopaxi, maxi, taxi, waxy •Anglesey •antsy, Clancy, fancy, Nancy •paparazzi, patsy •Yangtze • necromancy • cartomancy •geomancy • bibliomancy •chiromancy • ataraxy •Adivasi, brassy, classy, dalasi, Darcy, farcy, Farsi, glassy, grassy •chancy • ardency • Nazi •Bessie, Crécy, dressy, Jessie, messy, Nessie, tressy •prexy, sexy •Chelsea, Elsie •Dempsey • Montmorency •discrepancy • incessancy •Betsy, tsetse •epilepsy • narcolepsy • nympholepsy •apoplexy • catalepsy •Basie, Casey, Gracie, lacy, O'Casey, pace, pacy, precis, racy, spacey, Stacey, Sulawesi, Tracy •cadency • complacency •blatancy, patency •Assisi, fleecy, greasy, Tbilisi •decency

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