May 19, 2023
Late-night TV show host Jimmy Kimmel knows what it’s like to be always close to falling asleep.
This is because he suffers from a rare neurological disorder called Narcolepsy. It is a sleep condition that is characterized by sudden sleep attacks.
According to an interview Jimmy Kimmel had with Esquire, an international men's magazine, he said, “Truth be told, I’d rather have Narcolepsy than not have it. When I get on a flight to Vegas, I’ll fall asleep before the plane takes off and wake up after it’s landed. I’m always very close to sleep.”
While Jimmy took his condition with good humour, Narcolepsy is a dangerous condition and can be lethal under the wrong circumstances.
Let’s learn more about this condition in detail - including its symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment to scale up your NEET SS preparation.
Narcolepsy is a condition where the brain is unable to control its ability to stay awake or fall asleep. The urge to fall asleep suddenly during the daytime is almost impossible to resist.
Narcolepsy is not a commonly occurring condition worldwide, but its symptoms are pretty well known. Fortunately, this condition is usually treatable.
Next, let us look at the symptoms of Narcolepsy.
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Narcolepsy has four significant symptoms. However, most people affected by this condition do not show all four symptoms. The four symptoms of Narcolepsy are:
Excessive daytime sleepiness - This is a common symptom experienced by everyone who is diagnosed with Narcolepsy. These are often described as ‘sleep attacks.’
Sudden muscle weakness (cataplexy) - This can have mild effects that affect only one side of the body, or it can be light muscle weakness.
Sleep-related hallucinations - These occur right after falling asleep or right before waking up.
Sleep paralysis - This symptom is characterised by being unable to move after waking up. The patient is usually half awake and sometimes entirely.
Apart from these four main symptoms, there are also other behaviours or symptoms that are common in people with Narcolepsy. These are:
Automatic movements - Those affected by Narcolepsy keep moving parts of their body, like their fingers, even while they are asleep.
Amnesia - Usually, people affected by this condition do not remember what they were doing right before they fall asleep.
Sudden outbursts around sleep attacks - People with Narcolepsy might suddenly wake up and say something that is not coherent. Usually, doing this itself will be the trigger that wakes them up, but they will not remember what they were doing.
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Narcolepsy has two main types, and whether or not the patient has cataplexy determines which of the two it is.
The two types of Narcolepsy are
Type 1 Narcolepsy - This type involves cataplexy, and about 20% of the cases are Type 1.
Type 2 Narcolepsy - This type does not involve Narcolepsy, and about 80% of the Narcolepsy cases are type 2.
The type of Narcolepsy determines the cause. However, all types usually have a link to the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls our sleep and wake times.
The brain cells in the hypothalamus, or neurons, use orexins, a type of chemical molecule, to communicate. These orexins are readily detectable in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Patients with Narcolepsy have very low levels of orexins in CSF, and that is how they are detected.
The most likely reason is that the body’s immune system attacks the neurons that made and used the orexins, or they attacked the orexins themselves, or both. Over 90-95% of people affected with Type 1 Narcolepsy have a specific genetic mutation that affects their immune system.
While experts can reasonably figure out the cause behind type 1 Narcolepsy, they are still unclear about how type 2 Narcolepsy occurs. They believe it happens for similar reasons, including a less severe loss of neurons that use orexin or a problem with how the orexins travel the brain.
It is easy to suspect Narcolepsy based on the symptoms, but this condition shares similar symptoms with many other brain-related diseases. Therefore, to correctly diagnose Narcolepsy, specialized tests are needed.
Tests done to diagnose Narcolepsy include:
There is no cure for Narcolepsy, but this condition is treatable. Usually, these treatments start with medications, but a change in lifestyle can bring about the biggest change. Narcolepsy responds well to treatment.
Wakefulness medications - drugs like modafinil and armodafinil fall under the first line of treatment. These stimulate the nervous system, which reduces the effects of daytime sleepiness.
Amphetamines and amphetamine-like stimulants - These include drugs like methylphenidate or amphetamine/dextroamphetamine combinations.
Antidepressants - These include Medications like serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as venlafaxine, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like fluoxetine, or tricyclic antidepressants like clomipramine or protriptyline.
Sodium oxybate - This drug is used to help patients sleep, and it also reduces how often cataplexy occurs.
Histamine-affecting drugs - These drugs block specific chemicals in the body from attaching to cells and, in turn, slow down or prevent the cells from carrying out specific actions.
And that is everything you need to know about Narcolepsy.
Before we conclude, did you know that the Former President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, passed away at the American Hospital in Dubai at the age of 79 years? He has been battling Amyloidosis since March 2016.
You can read more about Amyloidosis by clicking on the link.
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Arindam is a Content Marketer who looks after the Medical Super Specialty segment, specifically the NEET SS category, at PrepLadder. He aims to help aspirants crack exams and realize their dreams through his work.
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