Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder associated which is believed to be triggered by an autoimmune response. This could be a response to a viral or bacterial infection, whereby your immune system mistakenly destroys the body’s own cells and tissues. In the case of narcolepsy, the affected cells are hypocretin neurons also known as orexin which are located in the base of the hypothalamus. The hypocretin cells help regulate sleep, wakefulness, certain aspects of mood and metabolism. As the orexin cells are destroyed by the immune system, they decrease in number which increases the development of cataplexy, a common symptom of narcolepsy. Cataplexy is the sudden loss of muscle tone, where you experience muscle paralysis often experienced during random eye movement (REM) sleep.(1)
Has Anyone Been Cured Of Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a chronic illness, which means you will need medication for the rest of your life to manage it. In addition to that, lifestyle adjustments will help in ensuring that you manage the symptoms accordingly. Currently there is no cure for narcolepsy. But, with the awareness and clinical investigations on narcolepsy being put into place, hopefully in the future there will be tremendous progress on slowing down or reversing the damage done on the hypocretin cells. Medications used to manage narcolepsy are stimulating drugs, to enhance wakefulness during the day such as armodafinil and modafinil. Methylphenidate can also be used but it is addictive and causes side effects including heart palpitations and nervousness.(1)
Tricyclic antidepressants such as protriptyline and clomipramine are used to manage cataplexy. Some of the side effects of these medications include lightheadedness and dry mouth. To manage REM sleep, patients are prescribed with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. They also help alleviate cataplexy, hallucinations and sleep paralysis. Side effects of this medication include insomnia, weight gain and digestive problems. Sodium oxybate medication helps in improving narcolepsy symptoms such as cataplexy and nighttime sleep. if administered in high doses, it can help control daytime sleep. Possible side effects of sodium oxybate are nausea, increased sleepwalking and bedwetting.(1)
Lifestyle Modifications For Living With Narcolepsy
Just because there is no cure for narcolepsy, it doesn’t mean you can live a life where normalcy can be obtained. In addition to taking medication to manage narcolepsy, certain lifestyle medication can help improve quality of day-to-day living. Some of these modifications include;
- Creating a schedule and sticking to it on when to sleep and wake up. This schedule should be followed on a daily basis regardless of where you are and whether it’s a weekend or weekday.
- Take scheduled naps during the day to help with alertness throughout the day.
- Exercise regularly before bedtime to enhance better sleep at night and feeling more awake during the day.
- Avoid drugs such as alcohol and nicotine, which can worsen your symptoms.
- Do not drive when you feel drowsy or sleepy. Instead take a break and sleep so that you can feel refreshed and continue with your drive.
- Share with friends, family, workmates and even your employer. Talking about your narcolepsy with those you interact with will help them understand your state and can also come up with ways to accommodate your condition.
Diagnosis Of Narcolepsy
Narcolepsy can easily be diagnosed via observation or review of one’s symptoms. They may include; excessive daytime sleepiness, fragmented night sleep, cataplexy, and hallucinations, to mention a few. For effective diagnosis, a patient would have to spend a night at a sleep-center where a sleep specialist will do a thorough evaluation. The major evaluation points are; sleep history and records, multiple sleep latency tests and a polysomnography test. These tests will help the doctor understand your control, or the lack of, in staying awake during the day, your alertness and how long it takes for you to sleep. For the polysomnography test, it provides results on the signals from your brain during sleep and movement of your muscles and monitors your heart and breathing as well.(1)
No one has been cured of narcolepsy, yet. However, there are many people out there living with the condition. They have been subjected to drug treatment and have adopted lifestyle changes which enable them to take a step a day in their new life with narcolepsy. It is hard living with this condition, but provided you follow a schedule, taking medication, eat healthy and avoid all the don’ts with narcolepsy, you will have a near-normal life that people cannot discern as not normal.
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