Are you worried about the way that you’ve been sleeping? It could be the result of something as common as stress. But it could also be the result of a more serious health condition, like narcolepsy. A sleep disorder that brings on excessive sleepiness, sleep paralysis, and even hallucinations or loss of muscle control, narcolepsy affects men, women, and children. Approximately one in 2,000 people live with narcolepsy, and the condition’s symptoms can begin in childhood or adulthood. Narcolepsy is a condition that can truly affect anyone. Search online to learn what the symptoms of narcolepsy can look like.
Narcolepsy is a condition that often goes unnoticed and undiagnosed for years. However, you can’t begin to treat its effects until you have a diagnosis. If you think you might be experiencing narcolepsy, search online to discover its most common symptoms.
What Causes Narcolepsy?
The exact cause of narcolepsy is still unknown. Medical experts think that it’s caused by the result of a few different issues coming together and causing problems within the brain, all of which end up disturbing your REM sleep.
It’s also thought that certain genes may be linked to narcolepsy. Those genes might control the production of the chemicals that send you sleep and wake signals, or they might affect the chemical hypocretin, which is important for sleep.
Who’s At Risk for Developing Narcolepsy?
Anyone can develop narcolepsy. It’s a condition that affects individuals of all ages, all genders, and all backgrounds.
However, some factors may put you at a higher risk for developing narcolepsy. Age is a known risk factor – the condition typically appears between the ages of 10 and 30 years old. Family history is another risk factor. If you have a family member who has narcolepsy, your risk of developing the condition is 20 to 40 times higher.
How do you know if you have narcolepsy? Your symptoms will be the first sign of a potential problem.
Narcolepsy symptoms can vary, and each person can experience completely different symptoms. Some cases of narcolepsy are more severe than others, and that can affect the symptoms you see too.
The symptoms of narcolepsy also depend on which type of narcolepsy you’re suffering from. There are two primary types:
- Narcolepsy with Cataplexy: You experience narcolepsy symptoms and cataplexy, or sudden muscle weakness and loss of muscle control. Cataplexy episodes can be triggered by strong emotions, like laughter or excitement.
- Narcolepsy without Cataplexy: You experience only the symptoms of narcolepsy, with no sudden muscle issues. This type is often less severe.
When signs and symptoms begin, they typically come on strong. The first few years of living with narcolepsy can be the most challenging. Symptoms typically include:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness that causes you to fall asleep anywhere, anytime without warning.
- Decreased alertness and focus.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- A sudden loss of muscle tone (usually caused by cataplexy).
- Sleep paralysis, or a temporary inability to move or speak.
- Changes in your REM sleep.
- Hallucinations as you fall asleep or wake up.
Narcolepsy can also introduce other health conditions. It’s common for individuals with narcolepsy to also suffer from other sleep disorders, like obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or insomnia.
How Narcolepsy is Treated
Once you’ve seen a doctor and officially undergone the diagnostic tests needed to confirm narcolepsy, you’ll be able to take steps towards treating the condition. If you do have narcolepsy, you may be able to treat its symptoms in a few different ways.
Narcolepsy is a chronic condition, which means there’s currently no cure available. However, treatments may be able to lessen or help you manage your symptoms throughout your life.
Medication is often the first treatment strategy available to try. There are a few different types of medications that can help narcolepsy symptoms, including:
- Stimulants. These medications can help you stay awake throughout the day.
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), which can treat cataplexy, hallucinations, and sleep paralysis.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These medications can help you better regulate your sleep.
- Antidepressants, which may reduce symptoms of cataplexy, sleep paralysis, and hallucinations.
Other medications have recently been approved by the FDA to treat specific symptoms of narcolepsy. Talk to your doctor to see if these medications may work for you, or if they’re a good fit for the symptoms you’re dealing with most often.
Because narcolepsy cannot be cured, it’s a condition that you have to learn to live with. While the medical world is still working to discover what, exactly, causes narcolepsy, there are ways to treat the symptoms of the condition. And if you take action and see your doctor as soon as symptoms first begin appearing, you can begin working towards a treatment option that works for you.