In addition, many older patients report that the daytime symptoms increase as they age, particularly over 60.
Scientists have found there are certain risk factors for the disease. For example, if someone in your family has narcolepsy, you stand a higher risk for developing it. It is more common in men than in women, and it occurs throughout racial and ethnic groups. It is interesting to note that Japan has the highest rate of narcolepsy in the world, at about one in 600. The U.S. rate is about one in 2,000, while the rate in Israel is about one in 500,000. Scientists do not know why the rates for different countries vary so much (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2009).
There is no cure for the disease, although there are treatments for at least some of the symptoms. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders (NIND) notes, "Two classes of antidepressant drugs have proved effective in controlling cataplexy in many patients: tricyclics (including imipramine, desipramine, clomipramine, and protriptyline) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (including fluoxetine and sertraline). Drug therapy should be supplemented by behavioral strategies" ("Narcolepsy Information," 2009). Another author notes, "Psychostimulants are used to prevent sleep attacks during everyday activities, and in the latter they are used to improve attention and energy levels" (Schmetzer, 2004). While medications can help with some of the symptoms, they cannot help with all of them. Many patients find taking short naps during the day helps them maintain their attention. Patients can also modify other areas of their lifestyle to help reduce the symptoms. WebMD continues, "Lifestyle adjustments such as avoiding caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and heavy meals, regulating sleep schedules, scheduling daytime naps (10-15 minutes in length), and establishing a normal exercise and meal schedule may also help to reduce symptoms" ("Narcolepsy," 2009). None of these is a cure; however, there is no cure for narcolepsy once it begins to occur.
It is possible for narcoleptic patients to lead normal, productive lives, usually with the drug treatments discussed above in this paper. However, the disease does have some serious complications. The May Clinic notes, "Sleep attacks may result in physical harm to people with narcolepsy. You're at increased risk of a car accident if you have an attack while driving. Your risk of cuts and burns is higher if you fall asleep while preparing food" (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2009). They also note that it can get in the way of intimate relationships, because patients suffer from a lower sex drive, and can even fall asleep during sex, and that the condition is misunderstood, and people who do not understand it may think the patient is lazy or rude. In addition, extreme emotions, such as joy or anger, can often bring on attacks, so in trying to control their disease, narcoleptics can often be seen as unemotional or uncaring (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2009).
In conclusion, narcolepsy is a serious disease, and scientists are just beginning to understand its causes. People who suffer from narcolepsy show a variety of symptoms, but they are similar to other sleep disorders, and it can go undiagnosed. The symptoms can be serious, and if left untreated, they can pose a danger to the patient. Narcolepsy is misunderstood, and patients may find they are ostracized or criticized by people who do not understand the disease. The good news is that many symptoms of narcolepsy can be treated with drugs, allowing patients to live relatively normal lives. Research into the disease continues, and hopefully, scientists will find out exactly what causes it and how to cure it someday.
Aldrich, M.S. (1998). Diagnostic aspects of narcolepsy. Neurology; 50:S2-S7. (From Google Scholar).
Editors. (2009). Narcolepsy. Retrieved 11 Dec. 2009 from the WebMD Web site: http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/guide/narcolepsy.
Editors. (2009). Narcolepsy information page. Retrieved 11 Dec. 2009 from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders Web site: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/narcolepsy/narcolepsy.htm.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2009). Narcolepsy. Retrieved 11 Dec. 2009 from the Mayo Clinic Web site:
Schmetzer, A.D. (2004).…