Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder that typically leads to excessive sleepiness and extreme fatigue. There is also irresistible daytime sleepiness. A person suffering from narcolepsy is not able to stay awake for a longer period of time which significantly interferes with every day activities and performance at school or work.
The first symptoms occur in adolescence or early 20s and they never withdraw. The person has to deal with excessive daytime sleepiness and uncontrollable drowsiness. Such people suddenly fall asleep without any warning signs. This makes it hard for the person to concentrate and perform all his/her duties. There may also be sudden loss of muscle tone medically known as cataplexy, sleep paralysis and hallucinations. Apart from the previously mentioned patients suffering from narcolepsy may additionally develop other sleeping disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea.
Scientists have not identified the actual cause of narcolepsy. However, they assume that the condition may have something to do with genetics and it can be associated with other factors such as infections, exposure to certain toxins or stress. Hypocretin is a chemical necessary for regulation of wakefulness and REM sleep. There is an evident lack of this chemical in narcoleptic patients.
Therapy for Narcolepsy
Even though there is no cure for narcolepsy patients suffering from this sleep disorder may benefit from different medications.
Stimulants are drugs able to stimulate the central nervous system and they represent a cornerstone of treatment for narcolepsy. It is essential to keep patients awake as much as possible (throughout the day), this way allowing them to perform all their duties adequately. Modafilin is a drug commonly prescribed for narcolepsy. Comparing to other stimulants modafilin does not have to cause addition (even though this side effect is possible). Other side effects of the drug are anorexia, headache, dry mouth, nausea and diarrhea. One of the most serious side effects of modafilin is hypertension.
Patients suffering from narcolepsy can additionally benefit from selective serotonin or norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. They effectively deal with hallucinations and sleep paralysis as well as cataplexy. These effects are achieved by suppression of REM sleep. These drugs may cause decrease libido, digestive problems, headache, restlessness and insomnia.
Tricyclic antidepressants (protriptyline or imipramine) can eliminate cataplexy. Severe forms of cataplexy are brought under control with sodium oxybate. This medication additionally allows patients to sleep better during night. The dose of the drug must never be exceeded since this may cause breathing difficulties, coma and even a lethal outcome.