Narcolepsy is a nervous system problem that causes extreme sleepiness and attacks of daytime sleep.
Experts aren't sure of the exact cause of narcolepsy. It may have more than one cause.
Many people with narcolepsy have low levels of hypocretin (also known as orexin). This is a chemical made in the brain that helps you stay awake. In some people with narcolepsy, there are fewer of the cells that make this chemical. This may be due to an autoimmune reaction. An auto immune reaction is when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue.
Narcolepsy can run in families. Researchers have found certain genes linked to narcolepsy.
Narcolepsy symptoms usually first occur during ages 15 - 30. Below are the most common symptoms.
Extreme daytime sleepiness
Most people with narcolepsy have daytime sleepiness and cataplexy. Not everyone has all these symptoms. Surprisingly, despite being very tired, many people with narcolepsy don't sleep well at night.
Your health care provider will do a physical exam.
You may have a blood test to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. These include:
You may have other tests, including:
There is no cure for narcolepsy. However, treatment can help control symptoms.
Certain changes can help improve your sleep at night and ease daytime sleepiness:
These tips can help you do better at work and in social situations.
If you have narcolepsy, you may have driving restrictions. Restrictions vary from state to state.
These drugs may have side effects. Work with your doctor to find the treatment plan that works for you.
Narcolepsy is lifelong condition.
It may be dangerous if episodes occur while driving, operating machinery, or doing similar activities.
Narcolepsy can usually be controlled with treatment. Treating other underlying sleep disorders can improve narcolepsy symptoms.
Call your health care provider if:
You can't prevent narcolepsy. Treatment may reduce the number of attacks. Avoid situations that trigger the condition if you are prone to attacks of narcolepsy.
Daytime sleep disorder; Cataplexy
Borkan JM. Narcolepsy. In: Ferri: Ferri's Clinical Advisor. 1st ed. Philadephia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2014: section 1.
Cao M. Advances in Narcolepsy. Medical Clinics of North America. 2010; 94(3): 541-55.
Chokroverty S, Avidan AY. Sleep and its disorders. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds. In: Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2012:chap 68.
Mahowald MW. Disorders of sleep. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 412.
Updated by: Allen J. Blaivas, DO, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, Attending Physician in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, Department of Veteran Affairs, VA New Jersey Health Care System, East Orange, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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