Diagnostic Techniques for Narcolepsy

Sleep Study Patient

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  • Narcolepsy is one of the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions in human pathology, and is often mistaken for laziness and/or just an overall lack of motivation to study or to work
  • Specific aids have also been made available by sleep experts to help you determine if you have narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is one of the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions in human pathology, and is often mistaken for laziness and/or just an overall lack of motivation to study or to work. For a clearer diagnosis, it is best that you consult experts that focus on this area of medicine.

Self-Assessment and Tools to Help You Identify Narcolepsy

Specific aids have also been made available by sleep experts to help you determine if you have narcolepsy. Two self-assessment techniques to help you determine if you have this sleeping disorder are:

Epworth sleepiness scale. This is a scale used to determine the severity of daytime sleepiness. This consists of a questionnaire that asks you the likeliness that you would fall asleep while doing a series of activities. Your answers usually range from least likeliness to fall asleep to a high chance of falling asleep.1

Ullanlinna narcolepsy scale. This is a questionnaire-based method of measuring your narcoleptic symptoms. It determines the severity of both cataplexy and daytime sleepiness. Your answers usually provide a clear distinction between narcolepsy and other sleep disorders.2

Tests for the Diagnosis of Narcolepsy

If you or other people experience specific symptoms of narcolepsy, consulting an expert is the next step to achieving a clearer diagnosis. Some of the tests that may be recommended include the following:

In-lab overnight sleep study. Also known as a polysomnography, this procedure entails a patient staying in a sleep clinic overnight in order to determine their sleep cycle. Different sensors are attached to the body, which measure the brain activity, heart rate and the speed in which a patient falls into REM sleep.

Before undergoing this test, it is required that you stop taking any medication that may interfere with your neural activity two to three weeks prior to the test.3

Multiple sleep latency test (MSLT). In contrast to polysomnography, MSLT measures the speed in which a person is able to fall asleep in the daytime. You are confined to an isolated dark room to stimulate your sleep response. This consists of scheduled 15-minute naps throughout the day. This usually ends when the patient fails to fall asleep within 20 minutes.4

Hypocretin level measurement. This refers to the measurement of the hypocretin levels present in your spinal fluid. You will undergo a lumbar puncture, where a needle is inserted into the spine to remove a sample of the spinal fluid.5 This is a fairly new diagnostic technique for narcolepsy and is rarely used because of the requirement of the lumbar puncture.6

Other Conditions Often Mistaken for Narcolepsy

When trying to diagnose narcolepsy, it is best that other conditions are canceled out first to home in on the cause of excessive sleepiness and/or cataplexy. Other conditions similar to narcolepsy include the following:

Sleep apnea. This condition usually causes the patient to suffer from disturbed sleep. This is caused by breaks in breathing, which last for a few seconds to a few minutes. Because of the constant change in breathing, patients often go from deep sleep to light sleep.  Sleep apnea is one of the most common causes of excessive daytime sleepiness.7

Idiopathic hypersomnia. Because of the similarity in their symptoms, this remains one of the hardest conditions to differentiate from narcolepsy. Researchers have discussed that both narcolepsy and idiopathic hypersomnia present almost identical results in the polysomnogram. Like narcolepsy, there is no clear cause for why this condition occurs.8

Epilepsy. During cataplexy episodes, patients can suffer from complete loss of muscle control and may experience twitching movements once control is slowly recovered. Similarly, epileptic episodes usually entail loss of consciousness or awareness and the jerking movements of both the arms and the legs.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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