Narcolepsy Symptoms and Treatment

Narcolepsy is an unusual form of epilepsy that is characterized by sudden periods of sleeping for 5 to 30 minutes several times a day, sudden muscle weakness, hallucinations before and during sleep periods, and paralysis immediately before and during sleep. Not all of these symptoms occur in all patients, and there is a wide range of severity from those who merely appear to sleep excessively, to those who are barely able to function or care for themselves. Patients may suddenly fall asleep, sometimes in the middle of a sentence, or when halfway across a pedestrian crossing. Narcolepsy therefore has obvious dangers and requires urgent treatment.

The diagnosis can only be confirmed by an electroencephalogram and by observing the patient in a sleep laboratory. Patients with narcolepsy go from wakefulness almost immediately into the deepest type of sleep known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, without passing through the normal intermediate stages.

Treatment of narcolepsy involves using stimulants, such as amphetamine, on a regular basis. Patients must not be allowed to drive, swim or operate machinery until they have been well controlled for a long time. In many patients, good control of symptoms is quite difficult to achieve.

As narcolepsy is a rare condition, it is far more likely that patients who sleep excessively are merely over-tired from work, play and activities. Many medical conditions from anemia and chronic infections to an underactive thyroid gland and the side effects of medications can also cause tiredness and falling asleep rapidly.

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