Are You at Risk for Narcolepsy?

Are You at Risk for Narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is considered a rare disease, and experts estimate that somewhere between 135,000-200,000 people in the United States have it. It’s a chronic neurological disorder that disrupts your ability to sleep and wake normally. 

Led by Sarah Patel, MD, the providers at Sonoran Sleep Center in Glendale, Arizona, have deep expertise in treating this rare disease. We understand the symptoms, the potential causes, and the available treatments. We also continue to study new developments as researchers learn more about narcolepsy, so that we can bring you the most effective treatments available. 

Types of narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is divided into two types. Type 1 is more common and includes a symptom called cataplexy, which causes a sudden loss of muscle tone. Type 2 is narcolepsy without cataplexy. 

A low level of hypocretin, a hormone in your brain that controls sleep-wake cycles, is associated with narcolepsy. Those who have cataplexy tend to have particularly low levels of hypocretin.  

Symptoms of narcolepsy

If you have narcolepsy, you may fall asleep without warning, at any time. It can most certainly disrupt your life. You may be talking to a friend, and you suddenly fall asleep for a few minutes or even a half hour. 

You may also have periods of time throughout the day when you feel less alert and focused than usual. Most people experience extreme sleepiness during the day as the first symptom of narcolepsy. This sleepiness is problematic since it makes it very difficult for you to carry out your normal daily obligations. 

If you have Type 1 narcolepsy, you may experience some startling physical changes, such as slurred speech or complete weakness of your muscles that can last for several minutes. 

Another symptom of narcolepsy is sleep paralysis. When you’re falling asleep, or right after you wake, you may be temporarily unable to move or speak. The paralysis may only last from a few seconds up to a few minutes, but patients report that it’s a frightening experience. 

You may also experience hallucinations as you fall asleep or shortly after you wake. These are called hypnagogic hallucinations, and they can be quite vivid. 

Risk factors

Scientists don’t understand everything about narcolepsy, but there are a few things that make you more likely to develop it. For example, having family members who have narcolepsy can increase your likelihood of developing the condition. However, although genetics do play a role, there’s only about a 1% chance of it passing from a parent to a child. 

It’s also possible that a previous infection could cause narcolepsy. There may be a higher risk for people who have been exposed to swine flu, or H1N1 flu. 

In some rare cases, narcolepsy is caused by a head injury, stroke, or other medical condition. 

Treating narcolepsy

Treating narcolepsy usually involves both medication and behavior changes. Stimulants, and scheduling naps, for instance, may help improve daytime sleepiness. The most effective treatment for you depends on a host of individual factors. It’s crucial to work with a doctor who understands narcolepsy such as our team at Sonoran Sleep Center. 

If you’re experiencing symptoms of narcolepsy or you have reason to think you may be at risk for developing it, schedule a consultation by calling our office or booking an appointment online today. We’re always happy to answer your questions.

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