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Narcolepsy Symptoms

Narcolepsy Overview

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes overwhelming and severe daytime sleepiness that often occurs at inappropriate times and places. The daytime sleep attacks may occur with or without warning, and can occur repeatedly in a single day. Persons with narcolepsy often have fragmented nighttime sleep with frequent brief awakenings.

Narcolepsy is typically characterized by the following four symptoms, ranked in order of their frequency:

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  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Cataplexy (sudden and temporary loss of muscle tone often triggered by emotions such as laughter)
  • Hallucinations (vivid dream-like experiences that occur while falling asleep or upon awakening)
  • Sleep paralysis (paralysis that occurs most often upon falling asleep or waking up; the person is unable to move for a few minutes)

About 15% of people experience all four symptoms.

The following are some little known facts about narcolepsy:

  • Frequently, narcolepsy is unrecognized for many years. There could be a delay of 10 years between the onset of the condition and the diagnosis.
  • Approximately 50% of adults with narcolepsy report that symptoms began in their teenage years. For most patients, narcolepsy begins between ages 15 and 30 years. It occurs less frequently in children younger than age 10 years (6%).
  • Narcolepsy may lead to impairment of social and academic performance in otherwise intellectually normal children.
  • Narcolepsy is a treatable condition. A multi-modal approach is most effective (medications, a regular nighttime sleep schedule, and scheduled naps during the day).

WebMD Medical Reference from eMedicineHealth

Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on October 18, 2015

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