Narcolepsy is the chronic neurological condition and if left untreated, negative affects the quality of life. Although the anatomical changes in the disease process cannot be reversed and thus the condition cannot be permanently cured, by effective treatment strategy, the condition can be managed.

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What Happens To Untreated Narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a chronic condition which affects the sleep of the patient. The condition is thought to originate due to the hyperactive immune system. The immune system may be hyperactive due to a variety of reasons such as infection. The immune system attacks the neurons of the hypothalamus. These neurons are responsible for the secreting hypocretin, a chemical substance regulating the sleep cycle in humans. As neurons get damaged, the level of hypocretin starts reducing in the cerebrospinal fluid leading to sleep disturbances. The symptoms of narcolepsy are nonprogressive as once all the neurons get damaged, the condition of the patient becomes stagnant. Narcoleptic patients suffer from excessive day time sleep, hallucinations, sleep paralysis, automatic behaviors, and insomnia. The condition is chronic and cannot be cured permanently. However, the symptoms can be managed through medications. Patients with untreated narcolepsy have a poor quality of life along with many repercussions.

Some of the complications associated with poorly managed or untreated narcolepsy are:

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Risk Of Accidents. Narcoleptic patient is unable to maintain his concentration for a long period of time. The focus gets distracted within a short span and he is unable to stay awake. There is a strong urge to sleep at an inappropriate time. The condition is more frequent while doing routine and boring activities such as long driving and working on a machine. This increases the risk of accidents which sometimes may be fatal1. Further, falling incidents increase due to sleep paralysis.

Reduced Mental Functioning. Patient suffering from narcolepsy has temporary cognitive decline. The patient has poor focus memory and concentration. This may be due to prolong drowsiness and a strong urge to sleep; although it may also be caused due to fatigue and brain abnormalities2.

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Emotional And Social Relationships. The person with narcolepsy has a poor social life and is emotionally low. The triggers such as anger and surprise result in cataplexy. Due to excessive day time sleepiness and other symptoms, the patients are not able to form a strong social and emotional relationship and feels socially isolated2.

Intimate Relationships. Due to unmanaged symptoms of narcolepsy, the patient may not be able to form a strong intimate relationship2. This may be due to low libido and this may result in infertility.

Weight Gain. If the narcolepsy is not properly managed, the condition may result in weight gain and obesity. The reasons for this are unknown. However, studies indicate that this may be due to low activity levels, poor metabolism, disrupted psychological behaviors and diet3.

Depression. Due to the fact that symptoms of narcolepsy make a person inactive and socially isolated, the patient feels depressed. The shift in chemical equilibrium results in a change in the mental condition of patient3.

Poor Job Performance. Patient with narcolepsy has poor job performance. Approximately 59% of the patient with narcolepsy has lost their jobs due to excessive day time sleepiness which affect their professional performance. Those who do not know about narcolepsy see such people as lazy and less active. Further, employers may interpret such people as demotivated or having a lack of interest in work4.

Difficulty In Acquiring Driving License. If the patient is not able to manage the symptoms of narcolepsy, he may have difficulty in acquiring the driving license, as most of the countries have regulations for issuing a license to patients with narcolepsy. The medical condition of the patient is thoroughly evaluated while issuing license5 and untreated narcoleptic patients are not fit for driving due to the risk of accidents.

Conclusion

Untreated narcolepsy has complications ranging from fatal road accidents to losing your job. Various other complications include poor job performance, difficulty in acquiring a driving license and poor emotional, social and intimate relationships.

References:  

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Sheetal DeCaria MD

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

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Last Modified On: June 4, 2019

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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