Narcolepsy is marked with an excessive daytime sleepiness and abrupt sleep episodes. It is a sleep disorder that is chronic in nature.
What Triggers Narcolepsy?
Usually, the immune system of our body responds by releasing antibodies to attack any toxins or disease carrying microbes or organisms. This is the natural defence mechanism that our body follows. But, if the antibodies produced by our immune system attack the healthy cells mistakenly, it is called as an autoimmune response. (1)
The same mistake in the natural immune mechanism of the body related to sleep-wake pattern is said to cause narcolepsy. A lack of brain chemical named hypocretin is thought to be responsible for narcolepsy. Hypocretin is also known as orexin. This chemical is responsible to regulate sleep in our body. Some studies also believe that the immune system produces antibodies that attack a protein called trib 2. Trib 2 is also made by the same area of brain that makes hypocretin. As a result, hypocretin is produced in very low levels, thus unable to regulate the sleep cycles in our body. However, this is not the case in all people having this condition. Some people with this condition still make almost near-normal levels of hypocretin. (1)
There are several factors which can be called as triggers or risk factors for causing narcolepsy in a person. These factors may also be responsible for triggering an autoimmune response in our body. These may include-
- Inheritance or a genetic factor
- Hormonal imbalances or changes
- Hormonal changes during puberty or menopause
- Psychological factors like stress or depression
- An abrupt change in sleep cycles or pattern
- A serious infection like strep or swine flu
- Certain vaccines like flu vaccine etc. however, the risk in case of vaccines is extremely rare (1)
However, it is yet to be confirmed if all of these or some of these are responsible for causing narcolepsy in a person
What Are Its Complications?
Social And Work Problems-
- Narcolepsy can interfere with your day to day activities
- It may become difficult for you if you attend school or work
- Other people unaware of your condition may think you as a lethargic or lazy person
- Your professional and personal life may suffer a setback due to this(2)
- Anger or joy can trigger signs and symptoms of narcolepsy and cataplexy
- People may withdraw from relationships and you may feel isolated and depressed.(2)
- Abrupt sleep attacks may cause accidents
- If you get an attack suddenly while you are driving, it may cause significant physical harm to you
- Similarly, risks of getting cuts and suffering burns is also more if you are preparing food(2)
- People suffering from narcolepsy commonly suffer from a problem of being overweight or obese
- This is related to a lower rate of metabolism as well as a lack of regular physical exercise.(2)
Causes Of Narcolepsy
- The pinpoint cause of narcolepsy is not yet known
- It is seen that there are low levels of hypocretin in people suffering from narcolepsy
- This chemical is extremely important in regulating your sleep cycles
- The levels of this chemical are especially low in those who have cataplexy
- The reason behind the loss of hypocretin is not known, however, according to some experts an autoimmune response of our own body might be the reason
- Some suspect genetics to be the reason behind narcolepsy. However, the chance of passing narcolepsy from a parent t the child is very rare.
There may also be an association of certain infections and their vaccines with narcolepsy. One such infection and vaccine is that of the swine flu. The exact reason is unknown (2)
There are several factors that can be said to be the triggers for narcolepsy. Though narcolepsy is incurable, symptoms can be managed with a prompt and an efficient treatment and lifestyle changes.