Narcolepsy: What is it, its symptoms, what causes it and how to cure it.
Nowadays, many diseases arise due to people’s lifestyles and sleep patterns.
Nowadays, many diseases arise due to people’s lifestyles and sleep patterns. While some of these diseases are affected by genetic factors, some occur only due to daily routines. Although the cause of narcolepsy is not fully known, it is thought to occur due to genetic factors and lifestyle. Information about narcolepsy, the cause of which is still unknown today, is explained in detail in our article.
What is Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a disease that affects the nervous system, and people with narcolepsy experience abnormal sleepiness during the day. Studies have shown that this disease is chronic and its incidence is approximately 0.5-2%. The onset of the disease mostly occurs between the ages of 10 and 25. However, since the disease is difficult to diagnose, it may be diagnosed later or incorrect diagnoses may be made. The most misconception that people who have knowledge about narcolepsy have is that sleepiness is very intense at night. However, this is incorrect information. Because the disease, which causes intense drowsiness and sleep attacks during the day, on the contrary causes fragmented and shallow sleep at night.
In the vast majority of cases, there may be an unexpected and temporary loss of muscle control, known as cataplexy. This loss of control is likely to be confused with other seizures, especially in children. Narcolepsy by itself does not pose a mortal danger. However, sleep attacks and drowsiness that occur during the day can lead to accidents, injuries and even life-threatening situations. In addition, it is expected that individuals will have difficulty in carrying out their work, have problems in their daily relationships, and fail at school due to the disease.
What are the symptoms of narcolepsy?
The answer to the question “What are the symptoms of narcolepsy?” can be answered in different ways. Because it is a known situation that different symptoms occur in each patient. While some patients’ symptoms may be more pronounced, others may have more manageable symptoms. It is also common for symptoms to develop slowly over years or to appear suddenly within a few weeks. Although narcolepsy is a chronic disease, some symptoms appear to ease with age. An examination by a sleep disorder specialist is required to diagnose narcolepsy. The most common symptom is excessive daytime sleepiness. This is the first known and most common symptom. It affects daily life greatly and reduces the quality of life. Feeling sleepy and struggling to stay awake throughout the day causes loss of concentration at work or school.
People with narcolepsy may be viewed from the outside as lazy or rude. However, since sudden sleep attacks negatively affect people’s mood, they also have a negative reflection on the outside. Sudden sleep crises are another symptom. It is unclear when it will occur and how long it will last. While it causes short-term sleep in some patients, long-term sleep occurs in others. If the disease is not well controlled, sleep attacks may occur several times during the day. Other known symptoms of the disease are:
- Dropping of the jaw during sleep crises,
- Loss of head control,
- Loss of control of legs,
- speech disorder,
- Double vision or weakening of vision,
- Inability to focus on work,
- It can be listed as sleep paralysis that occurs during sleep crises.
What Causes Narcolepsy?
There is no definitive answer to the question of what causes narcolepsy. Research has not revealed sufficient data about the exact cause of the disease. People with type 1 narcolepsy have low levels of the chemical hypocretin. Hypocretin is an important neurochemical in the human brain that helps regulate wakefulness and REM sleep. Especially in patients experiencing cataplexy, hyporectin levels are quite low. It is not known exactly what causes the loss of hypocretin-producing cells in the brain. However, it is estimated that such a problem may arise due to autoimmune reactions. In addition, it is thought that genetic problems may also cause narcolepsy. However, the rate of narcolepsy being passed from a parent to a child is approximately 1 percent. Additionally, research has shown that narcolepsy may occur in people exposed to swine flu due to the H1N1 virus vaccine, which is known to be administered in Europe. However, the reason for this is not fully explained.
How to Diagnose Narcolepsy?
A preliminary diagnosis of narcolepsy can be made during the examination due to excessive daytime sleepiness and sudden loss of muscle tone (cataplexy). Following the preliminary diagnosis, a referral is made to a sleep specialist for further evaluation and definitive diagnosis. In order to definitively diagnose the disease, sleep specialists follow the patient throughout the night to perform an in-depth sleep analysis. The doctor asks the patient some questions to determine the patient’s sleep history and sleep problems during the day. Determinations are made about whether these problems are related to narcolepsy. The patient may be asked to keep a diary about sleep problems experienced for one or several weeks. Thus, the doctor interprets the relationship between wakefulness and sleep patterns. During the weeks the diary is kept, the patient is asked to wear a device called an actigraph. This device looks like a wristwatch and measures activity and rest periods. Thus, determinations are made regarding how and when the patient sleeps.
It is also possible to benefit from a test called polysomnography. With this test, the patient’s sleep signals are measured using electrodes placed on the scalp. The test measures the movement of the brain, heart, muscles and eyes. In addition, this test also monitors the patient’s breathing pattern. The last test applied is the multiple sleep latency test, which measures the time it takes to fall asleep. During this test, the patient is asked to sleep at intervals of one or two hours during the day. Thus, it is determined how long it takes the patient to fall asleep. As a result of all these tests, it is possible to diagnose narcolepsy.
What are the symptoms that occur with narcolepsy?
The most obvious of the symptoms that occur with narcolepsy is daytime sleepiness. This sleepiness manifests itself in the form of seizures and reduces the living standards of patients. It causes patients to be more tense and careless in their work and daily lives. Considering all these situations, the disease must be controlled. Otherwise, it is expected to cause accidents and undesirable situations during the day.
How to Treat Narcolepsy?
There is no permanent treatment for narcolepsy yet. Sodium oxybate is one of the medications used to treat narcolepsy to soothe drowsiness and prevent sleep attacks. In addition, antidepressant medications also play a role in helping patients manage narcolepsy. However, high blood pressure and changes in heart rhythm may have negative effects on some patients. Therefore, it is dangerous to use medications other than those prescribed by the doctor. Doses of medications may be changed in the later stages of treatment. Other than that, people need to learn to live with narcolepsy. Organizing their daily lives accordingly makes patients’ lives easier. Taking 20-minute naps during the day prevents seizures. Exercising 4 or 5 hours before going to sleep at night allows the patient to have a more comfortable and quality sleep.
Caffeine, alcohol and cigarette consumption should be avoided for 4-5 hours before sleeping. In fact, it would be more beneficial for the patient to stay away from alcohol and cigarettes, if possible. It is very important to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day of the week. Explaining the situation to the people around the patient and getting support from them makes the patient’s life easier. In this way, narcolepsy patients can live their lives more regularly and have the disease affect them less.