The word narcolepsy is derived from the Greek words narke and lepsis. Narke means numbness and lepsis mean attack. This word was coined by a French doctor.
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder. It is a long-lasting disease and it affects the sleeping and waking cycle of the patient. It is a type of neurological disorder. The exact cause of narcolepsy is yet unknown. About 10% of the cases have a family history of this same disease. Psychological stress, trauma, infections, etc. may also play an important in causing this disease. There is excessive daytime sleepiness in this disease. There is no cure for this disease, so the patient has to cope up with daily life events with the help of medications and lifestyle changes.(1) (2)
What Kind Of Doctor Can Diagnose Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is difficult to diagnose as it is a very rare disorder, it may even take years to diagnose it. A general physician can diagnose this disease based on your signs and symptoms. After the diagnosis, a sleep specialist will treat the disease. Basically, any registered medical practitioner can diagnose narcolepsy but the treatment is given by a sleep specialist.
You must tell all the symptoms of sleep-related disturbances to the doctor. The doctor will make the diagnosis on the basis of all the symptoms and signs of the patient. The sleep specialist will also perform certain special investigations and tests to come to the diagnosis. The doctor may also ask you to keep a sleep diary to note down about all the sleep disturbances occurring throughout a few weeks. In the diary, the patient is asked to write down how fast the patient can fall asleep, how long he/she can stay asleep, how long does he/she sleep at night and the amount of alertness the patient has throughout the day.
The doctor also asks about a detailed family history. You must inform the doctor if any of the relatives or family members had experienced any kind of sleep disturbances for a long period of time. If any relative is diagnosed with narcolepsy, the same must be informed to the doctor.
The doctor also asks about the medications that you have been taking because the daytime sleepiness can be the side effect of some medications. If you had experienced any head injury or any infections, etc. then also the doctor must be informed about it and the doctor will ask about it.
If you are addicted to alcohol, you might experience daytime sleepiness so the doctor will also ask you about your addictions. The doctor will also ask if you have had or are diagnosed with any thyroid related disorders because sleepiness can also be due to such disorders.(3)
Diagnostic Tests For Narcolepsy Done By A Sleep Specialist
For diagnosing narcolepsy, the main criteria are a family history and proper medical examination and history taking. Apart from these, there are other confirmatory tests that the doctor uses to make the diagnosis. The sleep doctor does these tests mostly at the sleep clinic.
Polysomnogram. For this test, the patient has to stay at the sleep clinic or sleep center for the whole night. The patient’s brain activity, blood pressure, heart rate, and eye movements are recorded in the clinic. With the help of this test, it can be concluded if the patient’s sleep cycle is normal or not. If the patient goes into NREM (Non- rapid eye movement) sleep and then progresses into REM (Rapid eye movement) sleep after one hour of NREM sleep then it points towards narcolepsy. Because this means that the patient is patient falls asleep quickly and then straight away enters REM sleep and after that has trouble to stay asleep through the whole night.
Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT). This test is done usually on the next day after the polysomnogram test is done. This test is useful to find out how drowsy does the patient feel during the daytime. It also determines how easily the patient can fall asleep after the night’s sleep. You will be asked to try to sleep in a quiet and dark room and your sleep pattern will be recorded.(3)
Narcolepsy is a rare condition and is tricky to diagnose. It may take some time or even years to diagnose narcolepsy. Basically, a general physician can diagnose narcolepsy on the basis of your signs and symptoms. But a sleep specialist will only be able to treat this disorder. The main diagnostic tests like polysomnogram and MSLT can be done by the sleep specialist only. The required treatment will be given by the sleep specialist.
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- Has Anyone Been Cured Of Narcolepsy?