Do you know the signs of Narcolepsy?
Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) Patients with narcolepsy experience repeating patterns of daytime tiredness and napping. A narcoleptic may sleep for half an hour and awaken refreshed, but soon - within a few hours - his or her sleepiness will resume. A narcoleptic's "sleep attacks" often are sudden, causing sleep in inappropriate places, and usually are the cause of professional and social embarrassment.
Cataplexy Cataplexy is a sudden loss of muscle tone that often accompanies "sleep attacks" in narcoleptics. However, cataplexy is not present in all cases. Cataplexy may be experienced only in certain muscle groups - such as a weakness in the knees, a slackening of posture, or a stooping of one's head. Instances of cataplexy can also be triggered by strong emotions such as anger, laughter or surprise.
Sleep Onset REM Periods The occasion of vivid dreaming immediately upon falling asleep is one of narcolepsy's tell-tale signs. Most of us do not dream until we are 80 minutes into our first cycle of sleep. A narcoleptic will frequently dream in the first 20 minutes of sleep, especially during daytime nap opportunities.
Sleep Paralysis Sleep paralysis is a temporary inability to move that occurs at sleep onset or offset. The ability to talk also is affected, which limits one's ability to call for help. Sleep paralysis is reported in 60% of patients with narcolepsy.
The average onset for Narcolepsy is age 22, with some cases reported as early as age 5 and some as late as age 63. Despite recent advances in public awareness, it is not uncommon for narcolepsy to remain undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed, for 10-15 years after its onset. The most frequent cause for its misdiagnosis is the mistaken belief that narcolepsy needs to be accompanied by attacks of cataplexy - the sudden loss of muscle tone. It is estimated that up to 40% of all patients with narcolepsy do not experience cataplexy, or do not list it as a significant complaint.
If you think you or someone you know may suffer from narcolepsy, treatment is available. For more information on Narcolepsy, visit the Narcolepsy Network.
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