The Important Questions About Narcolepsy
Narcolepsy is fairly easy to define, yet hard to understand. It usually manifests as sudden bouts of sleep that last circa several minutes, at any time throughout the waking hours and in spite of any circumstances. Interestingly enough, individuals that suffer from this neurological disorder typically spend an average amount of hours of sleeping per night, just as non-afflicted people do. Because of such a glaring manifestation, the medical community could easily define narcolepsy, but the jury is still out when it comes to the exact cause.
Thankfully, significant strides in research have been made over the last few decades, so we are going to take a look at this peculiar affliction overall, as well as the scientific revelations that may shed some light on it.
What are the crucial facts you should know?
The estimated incidence of narcolepsy is 1 in 2,000 but this is by no means an exact number. The first roadblock that makes it difficult to pinpoint the hard facts comes in the form of a rather disturbing notion that many individuals remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for many years — sometimes decades. What is known based on the observed sample is that it affects males and females equally and that it begins to develop during childhood. The full-blown manifestations become noticeable during the teens and sometimes go unnoticed until the afflicted reaches the early twenties.
Approximately 3,000,000 people worldwide are affected by narcolepsy and even though this is a total number worthy of a sizable metropolis, it is actually a minuscule percentage when compared to the global population. It is estimated that only a quarter of individuals that have this condition have been diagnosed. Furthermore, about 70% of people affected by narcolepsy also suffer from an accompanying condition known as cataplexy, which is loosely defined as a sudden loss of muscle strength and control that usually lasts as long as the narcoleptic episode. Instances of cataplexy without narcolepsy are extremely rare.
What are the symptoms of narcolepsy?
People that suffer from narcolepsy will fall asleep anytime anywhere, for a short and intense interval of time that can range from a minute to half an hour. The bout of narcoleptic sleep usually arrives suddenly, without any preexisting warning signs, though the attack of cataplexy can come beforehand. This is usually the be-all-end-all symptom that defines the condition, but there are also accompanying factors that worsen for a couple of years after the disorder is (arguably) instigated, but it typically stabilizes at a certain point and continues to stay consistent through life. The exception comes during particularly stressful periods, but more on that later.
The aforementioned cataplexy is the additional accompanying factor, and this sudden loss of muscle control varies in intensity from individual to individual. While it manifests merely as slurred speech, you can also experience a complete loss of muscle tone. The attacks are triggered by strong emotions of both positive and negative kind, and while cataplexy often accompanies narcolepsy literally, they can occur independently from each other. It is true that there are people with narcolepsy who do not experience cataplexy, but those who do can experience it as often as several times a day or as rarely as once a year.
Hallucinations are an additional symptom which occurs for a very obvious reason — since narcoleptic episode comes on so suddenly and rapidly, you may begin to experience dreams slightly before you “go under.” They can be hypnagogic or hypnopompic hallucinations, based on whether you experience them upon falling asleep or awakening respectively, and they can be severely intense. Furthermore, sleep paralysis, though short, can be experienced, and it can be just as frightening as hallucinations, especially since you may be perfectly aware of it occurring and capable of recalling it afterwards.
What causes narcolepsy?
If we are to discuss causes of narcolepsy, it would be prudent to divide them into two distinct categories which can be dubbed as triggers and root causes. The preamble to the further discussion is that neither of these categories is as clearly defined as you would desire it to be. For example, the notable triggers of narcoleptic episodes are intense emotions. If you are exceedingly stressed, feel overexcited or devastated, there is a greater chance you will experience narcoleptic sleep more often. It goes without saying that this is usually accompanied by cataplexy.