Narcolepsy: definition, causes, treatments

Suggested article: "Sleep disorder - definition and example"

Narcolepsy, definition

Narcolepsy or “Gelineau’s disease”, is a rare chronic disease, resulting in uncontrolled drowsiness. This condition affects both men and women. It affects all age groups, with a prevalence in adolescents and young people under 30 years of age. According to Inserm, 0.05% of the population is affected by this type of disorder. The disease manifests itself without warning, at any time of the day. Among the narcoleptic symptoms, we observe, in the first place, a daytime sleepiness, generally associated with a disturbance of sleep during the night. Can be added to this list, cataplexy, characterized by a loss of muscle tone following an emotional shock. We talk about narcolepsy-cataplexy. Among other symptoms, sleep paralysis, which occurs when the person is in the phase of REM sleep. This is found with all the members paralyzed while keeping a state of consciousness. This muscle atony can last a few minutes. The phenomenon, judged to be impressive, can also be accompanied by hallucinatory episodes.

narcolepsie definition

The causes of narcolepsy

The causes of narcolepsy are not all formally identified, but scientists agree that they are multiple. According to some studies, the disease comes from a dysfunction of the immune system. Originally, an anomaly in the hypocretins, believed to regulate sleep cycles, including wakefulness. But the pathology could also come from a genetic predisposition, or from prolonged exposure to toxic substances such as pesticides. Any psychological upheaval could promote sleep disorders. Significant stress or trauma could be the triggers. Similarly, sedentary lifestyles, with, in particular, too little rest time, would be the cause of narcolepsy problems. Among the consequences, we observe in the long term disorders of attention and memory as well as fatigue. Teenagers with these disorders, narcoleptic or not, should, in most cases, have a poor lifestyle or a lack of knowledge of their need for sleep. A poor diet is also to blame in some cases of narcolepsy. Consuming certain processed, very mature, or expired foods would lead to an imbalance in the production of histamine. This amine is important because it helps to regulate the sleep pattern. But in the event of a malfunction, it no longer fulfills its regulatory role.

What treatments for narcolepsy?

In as much as chronic disease, narcolepsy cannot be cured. There are, however, ways to limit its effects. Among the remedies for adults, some drugs limit the symptoms:
  • modafinil, a psychostimulant that improves alertness;
  • Sodium Oxybate or Xyrem®, suitable for cases of narcolepsy and cataplexy;
  • Amphetamine drugs such as Ritalin and Teronac, which act on the nervous system.
As an alternative to drug treatments, the person with the disorder can turn to plants such as ginseng, St. John's wort, ginko biloba and licorice. These plants provide a stimulating function on the brain. Sleep disorders, in general, can be reduced by improving lifestyle. There are several habits and simple gestures that reduce the symptoms:
  • Maintain regular sleep schedules
  • Have a balanced diet
  • Do some physical activity
  • Avoiding sources of stress

Narcolepsy being a multi-factorial disease, a diagnosis should be made before taking treatment. Options exist, with either the TMLE test or Multiple Sleep Latency Test or an examination to assess the level of hypocretin.

narcolepsie explication

Narcolepsy and sleep apnea

In all, 40% of French people are dissatisfied with their quality of sleep. It is that sleep disorders have a real influence on the state of form and the general tone. insomnia, hypersomnia, sleep apnea... All these ailments have one thing in common: they prevent you from falling asleep. Insomnia is the fact of having difficulty sleeping, as for hypersomnia, it is characterized by repeated episodes of fatigue.The sleep apnea syndrom ou SAHOS, results in the stopping or slowing of breathing which prevents you from sleeping properly. 5% of the population would be affected by this problem.

narcolepsie apnée du sommeil

OSAHS is characterized by an obstruction of the airways which disrupts breathing during the night. The person affected by this syndrome can wake up several times during the same night, resulting in an irregular sleep cycle and not very restorative. People with SAHOS would therefore be more prone to drowsiness during the day, due to accumulated fatigue. Therefore, one would think that they are also narcoleptics, but the symptoms of falling asleep are not exclusive to this disease.

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