Narcolepsy is a life-long disorder of the central nervous system characterized by the brain’s inability to control sleep-wake cycles. At various times throughout the day, people with Narcolepsy experience irresistible and sudden bouts of sleep, which can last from a few seconds to several minutes. This sleepiness is similar to how non-narcoleptics feel when going without sleep for 48-72 hours.
Sleep episodes can occur at any time: at work or school, during a conversation, playing a game, eating a meal, or most dangerously, when driving an automobile or operating other types of machinery.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it possible to have Narcolepsy without having all of the symptoms?
Yes, not everyone with Narcolepsy experiences all of the symptoms nor to the same degree. Although, sever symptoms do have the potential to impact lifestyle quality similar to that of Parkinson’s or Epilepsy.
Are there different kinds of Narcolepsy?
Yes, there are two forms of Narcolepsy: Narcolepsy with Cataplexy (N+C) and Narcolepsy without Cataplexy (N-C). In N+C, an autoimmune reaction destroys the brain’s 70,000 hypocretin-producing cells. Hypocretin neurotransmitters are essential to proper regulation of sleep and wakefulness. The cause(s) of N-C are not well understood.
Are people born with Narcolepsy?
No, people are not born with Narcolepsy. Generally, symptoms become apparent before early adulthood with children as young as three years old having been diagnosed.
Who gets Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy affects both males and females equally and appears throughout the world. Especially for young people, the condition can cause embarrassment, anxiety and depression, particularly if peers and loved ones are not supportive.
How common is Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy affects 1 in 2,000 people – over 200,000 Americans and 3 million people worldwide. In other parts of the world such as Japan, Narcolepsy appears as frequently as 1 in every 500. Narcolepsy is not rare, but it is severely under-recognized and commonly misdiagnosed.
What causes Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy may have several causes. Narcolepsy is almost always caused by the lack of a neurotransmitter called hypocretin, or orexin. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that neurons produce to communicate with each other and to regulate biological processes. Loss of hypocretin results in the inability to regulate sleep.
The reason for such cell loss remains unknown, but appears to be autoimmune in nature. That is, the body’s immune system selectively attacks hypocretin-containing brain cells. In rare cases, Narcolepsy is caused by a genetic defect that prevents normal production of hypocretin molecules.
Recent research points to two infectious agents that may be involved in triggering the condition. Frequently, Narcolepsy onset follows a seasonal pattern of higher rates in spring and early summer, following winter upper airway infection season. Researchers are investigating a possible link between Narcolepsy onset and streptococcus infection, such as strep throat.