Hallmark Symptoms of Narcolepsy

Sleepy Man

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  • The most obvious sign of narcolepsy is excessive and constant sleepiness, which is also the cardinal symptom present in all patients affected by this condition
  • Narcolepsy is often misunderstood by laymen and misdiagnosed by doctors

The most obvious sign of narcolepsy is excessive and constant sleepiness, which is also the cardinal symptom present in all patients affected by this condition. Other patients can develop other indicators, depending on the severity of the disorder.

Primary Symptoms of Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is often misunderstood by laymen and misdiagnosed by doctors. Adding to the confusion is the fact that narcolepsy shares numerous symptoms with other disorders, making it harder to detect. If you’re affected by, or you’ve noticed someone you know with the following symptoms, consider consulting with a sleep doctor for a clearer diagnosis:

Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS). Narcoleptic patients often complain about constant drowsiness and increased sluggishness throughout the day. This leads to scattered periods when the patient unwillingly falls asleep. However, there are various conditions that also cause EDS, which may lead to a higher chance of misdiagnosis.1

Cataplexy. About 70 percent of narcolepsy patients are affected by the sudden onset of muscle weakness or even complete inability to control their muscles.2 Cataplexy is not usually present in the first stages of the condition. Instead, it gradually develops with the disorder, taking a few months before it manifests. Some patients may notice muscle weakness, causing slurred speech or weakness in the limbs.

A severe case of cataplexy can render a person immobile for a couple of seconds up to a few minutes. But in contrast to losing consciousness, these episodes cause the patient to lose all control of their body function but remain conscious. The common triggers for this symptom include intense emotions such as laughter, anger, frustration or surprise.

The frequency of the attacks can also differ among narcoleptics. Some people only suffer one or two episodes in their lifetime, but in severe cases, patients can suffer up to 20 episodes in a single day.3

Nighttime wakefulness or disrupted sleep. Some narcoleptics may also have disrupted sleep during the night, which results in increased daytime sleepiness. This is often triggered by the disruption in the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep of a person. It can also be accompanied by hot flashes, intense alertness and an elevated heart rate.4

Other Indications That You May Have Narcolepsy

Together with the indicators mentioned above, narcolepsy patients may also present the following symptoms:

Hypnagogic, hypnopompic hallucinations and vivid dreams. Narcolepsy patients can suffer from hallucinations when falling asleep (hypnagogic) or upon waking up (hypnopompic).

The hallucinations usually appear vivid or in a dream-like fashion, which is caused by the permeability of the boundary between wakefulness and sleep.5 The most common form of hallucination is of seeing a presence inside the bedroom. This is often accompanied by sleep paralysis.6

Along with hallucinations, some narcoleptic patients have very vivid dreams as well. These dreams are often so realistic that patients have a hard time separating reality from the dream. This is often very hard for children with narcolepsy.7

Atonia or sleep paralysis. This is characterized by the inability of a person to move or control his or her body upon waking or before falling asleep, with some experiencing breathing difficulties during these paralytic events. This is due to the abnormal timing of paralysis that normally accompanies REM sleep.8

Microsleep and automatic behavior. This refers to a few seconds of sleep. Patients experiencing microsleep note that they continue talking or doing things but without the memory of such activities upon waking up. Studies have shown that during these episodes, parts of the brain shut down, while others remain active. This is especially dangerous while driving as it may cause fatal collisions and accidents.9

MORE ABOUT NARCOLEPSY

Narcolepsy: Introduction

What Is Narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy Symptoms

Narcolepsy Causes

Narcolepsy Test

Narcolepsy Treatment

Narcolepsy Prevention

Narcolepsy Diet

Narcolepsy FAQ

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