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Narcolepsy - Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

What is narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a rare neurological disorder that may affect as many as 250,000 Americans. At various times throughout the day, people with narcolepsy experience fleeting urges to sleep. If the urge becomes overwhelming, individuals will fall asleep for periods lasting from a few seconds to several minutes.

What causes narcolepsy?

Research continues to seek out the root cause of narcolepsy. Currently, the general consensus is that genetics accompanied by an environmental trigger of some sort-a virus, for example- may affect brain chemicals and contribute to the narcolepsy disorder.

What are the signs and symptoms of narcolepsy?

There are four classic symptoms that define this syndrome: sleep attacks, cataplexy, sleep paralysis, and hypnagogic (sleep-related) hallucinations. A person with narcolepsy may experience any or all of these classic phenomena.

  1. Sleep Attacks :- The best known symptom of narcolepsy is the sleep attack. A person with narcolepsy can suddenly fall into a sleep state with almost no warning whatsoever. Sleep attacks can occur at any time, even in mid-conversation, as many as ten times a day (even more, in some cases). These periods of sleep usually last only a matter of minutes, but in some cases sleep can continue for an hour or more. Afterwards, the person may feel refreshed, yet he or she may fall asleep again in a few minutes.
    While the sleep that results from narcolepsy looks like ordinary sleep, researchers have found at least one key difference. Normal sleep is a cyclical process that alternates between periods of rapid-eye-movement (REM) and non­rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep. During the NREM part of the cycle, the entire body slows down-pulse, breathing, blood pressure, and brain wave activity are all lowered. When the REM cycle begins, the body remains asleep, but the brain becomes significantly active; brain waves as recorded by an electroencephalograph (EEG) more closely resemble those of the waking brain. It is during REM sleep that most dreaming occurs.
    In healthy individuals, sleep begins with the NREM phase. After sixty minutes or so of NREM sleep, REM sleep begins. A short time later, the entire cycle begins again. In a narcoleptic sleep attack, in contrast, researchers have found that REM sleep begins almost instantly, with no introductory NREM sleep. The precise significance of this is not yet understood, but it does provide a useful diagnostic tool as well as a clue for researchers to pursue in trying to understand this mysterious disorder.
  2. Cataplexy :- The second classic symptom of narcolepsy is cataplexy. This is a type of paralysis that 'Usually occurs in response to some type of heightened emotion, such as anger, fear, or excitement. The individual does not lose consciousness, but experiences a sudden and temporary loss of muscle tone. Often, only the legs and/ or arms are affected. These episodes normally last less than a minute, and they seem to be most likely to occur if the person is surprised in some way.
  3. Sleep paralysis is the third classic symptom of narcolepsy. Just as you are falling asleep, or as you are beginning to awaken, you try to move or say something but find that you cannot, even though you are fully conscious. This lasts for only a second or two, but it can be frightening, especially the first time it happens. These episodes usually end either on their own or when someone touches or speaks to you. Many doctors feel that sleep paralysis is similar to cataplexy and to the state that accompanies REM sleep, in which motor activity is inhibited even though the brain is active. This phenomenon is not strictly limited to people with narcolepsy; many otherwise healthy people may experience it occasionally.
  4. Hypnagogic (sleep-related) hallucinations :- Like sleep paralysis, sleep-related hallucinations-medically termed hypnagogic phenomena-usually occur just prior to sleep, or sometimes upon awakening. The affected individual may hear sounds that aren't there and/ or see illusions. These visual and auditory illusions are very vivid. This phenomenon also can occur in individuals who do not suffer from narcolepsy, particularly in children.

Because the symptoms of narcolepsy vary from individual to individual (it is estimated that only 10 percent of people with narcolepsy experience all four of the classic symptoms), this disorder is frequently misdiagnosed. Further compounding the problem is the fact that other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, also can produce spells of marked daytime drowsiness. Narcolepsy is not a particularly dangerous problem, unless one experiences a sleep attack while operating a motor vehicle or other machinery. It can, however, be embarrassing and extremely inconvenient.

The cause or causes of this disorder are unknown, but brain infection, head trauma, or brain tumors may be behind some cases. It is known that narcolepsy is almost never the result of insomnia or sleep deprivation. There is currently no cure for this disorder, so the focus must be on treating the symptoms

Natural home remedies for the treatment of narcolepsy

  • Ginkgo biloba improves circulation to the brain and is a powerful antioxidant for protecting cells.
  • Ephedra, gotu kola, and St. John's wort boost energy levels and possess antioxidant properties as well.
  • Include in the diet foods rich in the amino acid tyrosine. Good choices include eggs, oats, poultry, and wheat germ. Caution: If you are taking an MAO inhibitor drug, avoid foods containing tyrosine, as drug and dietary interactions can cause a sudden, dangerous rise in blood pressure. Discuss food and medicine limitations thoroughly with your health care provider or a qualified dietitian.
  • Napping can rejuvenate you when you have lost sleep. Take up to a forty-five-minute nap in the early afternoon.
  • Eat a low-fat diet high in cleansing foods such as leafy green vegetables and sea vegetables. Also eat foods high in the B vitamins, such as brewer's yeast and brown rice.
  • Vitamin B complex 100 mg of each major B vitamins boost metabolism and are essential for increased B vitamin daily energy levels and normal brain function. Twice daily.
  • Eat foods high in protein (meats, poultry, cheese, nuts, seeds, and soy products) in the middle of the day, and save the complex carbohydrates (fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, natural whole grains, and pasta) for the evening meal. High-protein foods increase alertness, whereas carbohydrates have a calming effect and can promote sleepiness.
  • Medication such as Modafinil, Sodium oxybate (Xyrem) etc can be very helpful for treating the symptoms of narcolepsy. Consult with your doctor before talking such medication.

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