Narcolepsy is a chronic illness of the central nervoussystem (the brain). All patients suffering from this illness experience excessivesleepiness during the day (EDS). Narcoleptic patients may also suffer fromcataplexy which is a sudden loss of muscle tone which causes the fall andinjuries. Also, many of them experience hallucinations and paralysis that makesthem unable to talk or move any part of their body. Some people suffering fromthis condition have reported sleeping problems and unconscious actions.
In some cases, patients complain about tiredness, memory andconcentration problems or some other illnesses (seizures or mental illness). Allof the mentioned symptoms might indicate the possibility of narcolepticcondition.
Narcoleptic disorder usually starts at teen age and equallyaffects both men and women. The first symptom to appear is excessive daysleepiness, which progresses over the years and includes other supportingsymptoms.
Most of the narcoleptic patients remain undiagnosed, but itis estimated that about 200.000 Americans suffer from this disorder.
Causes of Narcolepsy
The recent studies revealed that narcolepsy is associated withbrain abnormalities in people suffering from this condition. These patients areproven to have some evident change in the hypocretin neurons, a group ofneurons located in hypothalamus. Under the normal circumstances these neuronsproduce hypocretins. The abnormalities cause less hypocretin cells and lower levelsof this hypocretin, which lead to development of narcolepsy.
Human leukocyte antigens (HLA) are proteins on the whiteblood cells (leukocytes). Their function is to assist in immune system and defendthe body from infections. There is a theory that narcolepsy is actually anautoimmune disorder, which causes the loss of neurons and the illness. Normal,healthy cells get attacked and damaged by immune system. So far, the autoimmunetheory remains yet to be confirmed.
One couldn’t say that narcolepsy runs in the families, butpeople having relatives suffering from sleeping disorders are certainly at riskof developing those and possibly narcolepsy. These potentially inherited sleepingproblems include increased REM sleep and day sleepiness.
Scientific studies on animals (especially the dogs) haverevealed that the mutation of a certain gene causes narcolepsy. That gene isnormally synthesizing a receptor for the hypocretin. Also, scientists haveestablished an evident pattern for inheritance of narcolepsy in animals.
These facts might lead to the conclusion that thalamus abnormalities might actually be the exact reasons fornarcolepsy, and that inheritance does have a role in development of thecondition.