What is Narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes overwhelming and severe daytime sleepiness. Pathologic sleepiness is characterized by the fact that it occurs at inappropriate times and places. The daytime sleep attacks may occur with or without warning, and can occur repeatedly in a single day. Persons with narcolepsy often have fragmented nighttime sleep with frequent brief awakenings.
The following are some little known facts about narcolepsy:
Narcolepsy is typically characterized by the following four symptoms with varying frequencies:
Narcolepsy Symptoms and Signs
Less frequently persons have all four symptoms.
Narcolepsy is believed to result from a genetic predisposition and abnormal neurotransmitter (hypocretin, also known as orexin) functioning and sensitivity.
Understanding of narcolepsy stems primarily from research involving narcoleptic dogs (for example, special laboratory-bred Dobermans and Labradors). In these animal models, the disorder is transmitted in an autosomal recessive fashion and is characterized mainly by cataplexy. A small percentage of human cases are inherited and, unlike the canine form, are transmitted in an autosomal dominant manner.
The neurotransmitter hypocretin was identified in the last few years and is strongly associated with narcolepsy in dogs with a genetic predisposition. Hypocretin levels in human subjects with narcolepsy have been found to be undetectable or low in several recent studies of patients with narcolepsy. Hypocretin appears to modulate activity in the hypothalamus (the part of the brain associated with sleep). The deficiency of hypocretin might produce sleep attacks. The drug modafinil (Provigil) is useful in the treatment of narcolepsy is believed to activate hypocretin-containing nerve cells.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/1/2016
Selim R Benbadis, MD
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