Narcolepsy

By Adam Bartlett

What is Narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a disease that causes people to have uncontrollable sleep episodes. These episodes are the effects of Excessive Daytime Sleepiness, a symptom of narcolepsy. This symptom always occurs with narcolepsy, and most common other symptom is cataplexy. Due to these episodes, most narcoleptic people don't participate in activities that would be dangerous if they fell asleep while doing it. Some of these activities can include driving, skiing and snowboarding, and many other activities. You could also fall asleep at work.

What system of the body is affected by narcolepsy?

The immune system is the system in the body that is affected by narcolepsy. When the body has narcolepsy, the immune system's immune cells that usually attack germs and other invasive things from coming into the body are also attacking the cells that make orexin in the body. Orexin (also known as hypocretin) is a neurotransmitter chemical in the body that promotes wakefulness (keeps you awake). In other words, immune cells are attacking cells that they shouldn't attack, which causes narcolepsy.

How does a healthy immune system run?

The immune system is a very important systems in the body. It is responsible for keeping you healthy. The immune cells located all over the body fight off infections and germs so they don't enter the body. This system also fights diseases that may be planted in someone in an effort to remove the disease.
Narcolepsy Video Adam Bartlett

What does an immune system with narcolepsy look like?

When the body has narcolepsy, the immune system is the effected system. The immune cells that are in the immune system that should attack the germs and infections also attack the neurotransmitter that creates hypocretin (also called orexin). Hypocretin is a chemical in the body that keeps you awake. If your body doesn't have the required hypocretin, you can fall asleep without warning. These sleep episodes can occur at any time, so people with narcolepsy try to avoid driving or any activity that may be dangerous if they fell asleep while doing it.

Who is affected by narcolepsy? Is narcolepsy gender-specific? Do people of certain ages get the disease? Is it more or less common among certain races?

Males and females are affected by narcolepsy the same amount. The diagnosis of narcolepsy usually occurs during childhood, but it can appear any time. Narcolepsy does not appear in one or two countries; cases of narcolepsy have been reported from around the world. About 1 in every 3000 have narcolepsy with cataplexy, a very common symptom that is very rare without narcolepsy. In America, there are about 200,000 cases of narcolepsy, but only 50,000 of them are diagnosed. Narcolepsy is not related to gender, race, or age. It is usually random. Narcolepsy has been reported to appear in people with close relatives who have narcolepsy.

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How does Narcolepsy arise?

This conditions is mostly random, meaning anyone can get it, anytime, no matter their family history. However, up to 10% of people with narcolepsy and cataplexy have reported having a family member experiencing like symptoms. In exceptionally rare cases though, individuals could have a birth defect that their body does not produce enough hypocretin to keep themselves awake, making them born with narcolepsy.

Diagnosis of Narcolepsy

If doctors think you may have narcolepsy, they may ask you to keep a sleep journal, recording when you sleep and how long you sleep for. To confirm that you do or do not have narcolepsy, doctors may perform two different tests. One of them is a PSG (polysomnogram) and the MSLT (Multiple Sleep Latency Test) The PSG is done at night when a suspected patient is sleeping. The doctors measure many different things (like activity in the brain, heart rate, etc.) to see if they notice any irregularities in these sections. An MSLT is done during the day, and patients are asked to nap a few times during the day. they do this to see if small narcoleptically caused naps fall into the times between the designated times they are asked to nap at. Usually after these tests are performed, doctors can determine if you have narcolepsy.
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Signs and Symptoms

There are a few possible symptoms of narcolepsy. The most common one with narcolepsy that is very rare outside of narcolepsy is cataplexy. Cataplexy is very dangerous. When people with cataplexy get too happy or excited, they suddenly could feel very weak in the muscles, and lose control of them and collapse. When someone is experiencing a reaction, they stay awake during the whole process. Another symptom is Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS), something that causes people with it to fall asleep without control anytime, no matter what you are doing. This symptom occurs in every case of narcolepsy, no matter how severe or not. Some other possible symptoms are sleep paralysis (when someone temporarily loses the ability to speak or move.), hallucinations, disrupted nocturnal sleep (when people with this have a hard time staying asleep at night), and obesity.
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Narcolepsy Treatment

There is no cure for narcolepsy that completely eradicates it, but there are some medications and drugs that relieve the symptoms partially. Provigil is a medication that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration to help people with narcolepsy feel relief. If this and other drugs don’t work, people can have immune globulins injected into them. Immune globulins are doses of donated blood given to people with a weak or overactive immune system. It is given to narcoleptic patients because of a weak immune system - it isn’t producing enough hypocretin to keep them awake all day. The immune globulins are used to try to replace some of that missing hypocretin. This strategy usually works. Doctors are hoping that a new drug will eventually be made just to replace the missing hypocretin in the body.

Is Narcolepsy Life-threatening?

Most people who get narcolepsy will live a normal life span. The disease itself doesn’t kill people. If you get narcolepsy, it won’t kill you. Unless, because of your narcolepsy, you get in a car accident or fall asleep doing something that could kill you while asleep. But just getting the disease itself will not kill you.

Do any famous people have narcolepsy?

I do not personally know someone with narcolepsy, but a few famous people were mentioned in my research. Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, supposedly had narcolepsy. Scientists and historians have observed pictures of Edison sleeping in his lab, which has lead them to believe he may have had narcolepsy. Also, the famous talk show host Jimmy Kimmel has narcolepsy. He has said he likes having narcolepsy. He has no problem sleeping on a plane on long trips.

Works Cited

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  2. Multiple Sleep Latency Test. Digital Image. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.

  3. "Narcolepsy Fact Sheet." : National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Web. 12 Jan. 2015.

  4. "14 Famous People with Narcolepsy." Ranker. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.

  5. Harder, Ben. "Narcolepsy Science Reawakens. (Cover Story)." Science News 165.25 (2004): 394. Middle Search Plus. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.

  6. Seppa, Nathan. "Narcolepsy May Be Rooted To The Immune System." Ebscohost. N.p., 25 Jan. 2014. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.

  7. Gorman, Christine. "Sleepless In America." Time 158.26 (2001): 88. Middle Search Plus. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.

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  9. Jimmy Kimmel. Digital image. Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.

  10. PSG. Digital image. Excellent Patient Care. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2015.