Narcolepsy - Symptom
Daytime sleep disorder; Cataplexy
The most common symptoms of narcolepsy are:
- Periods of extreme drowsiness every 3 to 4 hours during the day. You may feel a strong urge to sleep, often followed by a short nap (sleep attack).
- These periods last for about 15 minutes each, although they can be longer.
- They often happen after eating, but may occur while driving, talking to someone, or during other situations.
- You wake up feeling refreshed.
- Dream-like hallucinations may occur during the stage between sleep and wakefulness. They involve seeing or hearing, and possibly other senses.
- Sleep paralysis is when you are unable to move when you first wake up. It may also happen when you first become drowsy.
- Cataplexy is a sudden loss of muscle tone while awake, resulting in the inability to move. Strong emotions, such as laughter or anger, will often bring on cataplexy.
- Most attacks last for less than 30 seconds and can be missed.
- Your head will suddenly fall forward, your jaw will become slack, and your knees will buckle.
- In severe cases, a person may fall and stay paralyzed for as long as several minutes.
Not all patients have all four symptoms.
Signs and tests:
The doctor will perform a physical exam and order blood work to rule out conditions that can cause similar symptoms. Conditions that can cause excessive sleepiness include:
Other tests may include:
- ECG (measures the heart's electrical activity)
- EEG (brain activity measurements)
- Monitoring of breathing
- Genetic testing to look for narcolepsy gene
Tests will also include a sleep study (polysomnogram). The Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT) may be used to help diagnose narcolepsy. This test measures how long it takes you to fall asleep during a daytime nap. Patients with narcolepsy fall asleep much faster than people without the condition.
- Reviewed last on: 9/2/2009
- Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Departments of Anatomy Neurological Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
Dauvilliers Y, Arnulf I, Mignot E. Narcolepsy with cataplexy. Lancet. 2007;369(9560):499-511.
Morgenthaler TI, Kapur VK, Brown T, Swick TJ, Alessi C, Aurora RN, et al. Practice parameters for the treatment of narcolepsy and other hypersomnias of central origin. Sleep. 2007;30(12):1705-1711.
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