How to Diagnose and Treat Narcolepsy
Narcolepsy is one of the sleep disorders distinguished by uncontrollable and sudden urges to sleep.
Narcolepsy is one of the sleep disorders which is characterized by excessive and sudden falling asleep. The most common symptom is the suddenness of your urge to sleep and the inability to control it, even if it’s daytime.
The statistics show that approximately 3M people in the world are struggling with this diagnosis. Unfortunately, 200,000 of them are in the USA. But there’s another trick that makes this illness so rare. Sleep disorders are generally quite difficult to be self-diagnosed and most people confuse their sleep problems with simple fatigue.
You see, only 25% of all people who have narcolepsy ask for professional help and so receive some kind of treatment. Most don’t even realize they need some help. This results in considerable low knowledge of narcolepsy, its outcomes, and treatment. At the moment physicians still haven’t found any cure for this disease. But there are many ways to treat it and other recommendations that can improve your life and help you cope with the illness.
Remember that the best option here is to care for your health and if you notice some problems with your sleep you should ask for professional aid. Here we are to tell you everything about the process of narcolepsy diagnosing and also its treatment.
Symptoms of Narcolepsy
Several basic symptoms are regarded as the ‘red’ signs of having narcolepsy:
- EDS or excessive daytime sleepiness.
- Cataplexy or loss of muscle function.
- Paralysis during sleep.
- Disrupted sleep.
EDS or excessive daytime sleepiness. When you suddenly fall asleep at any time but especially during the day, it is the most obvious sign of narcolepsy. Generally, having EDS complicates your life, as it directly disturbs you during your daytime activities. Unfortunately, it happens regardless of whether you sleeping at night.
Cataplexy or loss of muscle function. Common symptoms, especially for narcolepsy of the 1st type. Sometimes people with narcolepsy admit that they experienced sudden muscle weakness for a long period before falling asleep. That’s one of the reasons why narcolepsy is so rare to be diagnosed at the beginning. Most people regard their sudden weakness and urge to sleep, as simple fatigue.
Hallucinations. Hallucinations may occur at any time a day to you. They are usually very vivid and bright. These visions also can happen to you before falling asleep. Visions of this kind are called hypnagogic. And visions that appear straight after your awakening are called hypnopompic.
Paralysis during sleep. Also, one of the most common symptoms of narcolepsy. It usually occurs when you fall asleep or during sleep, and results in the full inability to move or speak. Commonly lasts a few minutes.
Disrupted sleep. Unfortunately, also quite a common signal of narcolepsy is caused by unstable breathing rate, disrupted REM sleep or uncontrollable body movements.
Diagnosis of Narcolepsy
In order to diagnose this sleep disorder, you need to run:
- Neurological test. Like any disease that is caused by disorders in the nervous system, to get the right diagnosis of narcolepsy you should ask for professional help. Neurological tests will define the stage of the disease. So the treatment will be more accurate, as doctors would pick up the most suitable medication and doses for you.
- Sleep analytics. This is valuable information in the case of most sleep disorders. Doctors will probably ask you for your sleep history. Like, as when did you start experiencing difficulties, how long you slept last, and so on. Also, you will have to keep some sort of sleep diaries, where you can note your sleep patterns. So, you have to compare the quality of your sleep before and after the visit. In this way, physicians will be able to define when the disease started progressing.
- Polysomnography. This test implies you spend the whole night in the hospital, so special electrodes connected to your body would work. This test is required to measure the processes in your body during your sleep. It gives information on your brain activity, heart rate, and muscle work during sleep. It also checks your eyes’ movement.
- Multiple sleep latency test. This test is also crucial as it helps define when you enter the REM sleep stage. REM sleep is the last sleep stage and, the deepest one. You will have to take 4 or 5 naps, 2 hours long each, so the doctors will know how much it takes for you to reach the deepest sleep stage.
Treatment of Narcolepsy
There is no particular cure for this illness, however, doctors have found several solutions on how to ease your life:
- Avoidance of alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. Though a little dose of caffeine can be even good you should control it.
- Stimulants to control sleepiness.
- Sodium oxybate in muscle weakness.
- Pitolisant or Solriamfetol to stay awake for a longer time.
Your doctor may also prescribe stimulant medications, such as modafinil (Provigil®) or methylphenidate (Ritalin®), to improve concentration. The patient should take the drug exactly as prescribed before making any changes to the dosage or schedule.
Scheduled nap breaks and activity increases focus throughout the day. If the patient has concentration difficulty, dangerous activities should be avoided such as cycling, driving, cooking (anything that’s relevant to a cooker), swimming, etc.
School special conditions for children with narcolepsy
A child or teenager may need special conditions at school. The family, together with the school, should develop an individual educational plan for the child. Special conditions may include scheduled naps, later start times, a shorter school day, or extra time for homework or tests.
Recommendations for Healthy Sleep in Narcolepsy Disease
Healthy sleep is also the key to the treatment of narcolepsy. You need to:
- Know how much sleep you need. Children and teens need more sleep than adults, and children with cancer may need even more sleep. Discuss with your doctor the recommended amount of sleep per night, including daytime napping.
- Create a comfortable sleeping environment. Prepare a quiet, cool and comfortable place for sleeping only. Limit exposure to light and noise during the night.
- Avoid caffeine and nicotine, especially in the evening. Avoid caffeinated foods and drinks after 4:00 pm or 6 hours before bedtime.
- Physical exercise. Physical activity during the day can improve the quality of sleep at night. Avoid strenuous exercise before bed.
- Be outdoors. Exposure to sunlight or bright light during the day helps maintain the sleep-wake cycle.
- Get in the habit of relaxing before bed. Turn off the TV and put away electronic devices. Think with your child about ways to calm down and relax.
On the whole, though there’s almost no chance you will fully cure narcolepsy, modern medicine with its up-to-date amenities and knowledge can help you. A timely visit to a doctor will help you to cope with illness, as you will define the roots of your trouble.
- What is the test to diagnose narcolepsy?
The direct test applied for the diagnosis of narcolepsy is the Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT). This one is regarded as the most effective one.
- Can a regular doctor diagnose narcolepsy?
No, a regular doctor can only see that something is wrong with you and if there are any suspicions, then a doctor sends you to a neurologist.
- Who diagnoses and treats narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is usually treated in special neurological departments by neurologists or sleep professionals. If you doubt what doctor to visit, better visit a sleep professional, so to get a precise diagnosis.
- What food groups and vitamins are missing if you want to sleep all the time?
Vitamin B deficiency causes constant fatigue, even with normal sleep and rest. Vitamin B includes such sources as: buckwheat, oatmeal, bread products, dairy products, dried fruits and seafood. Vitamin C – improves immunity, and gives strength and endurance.