Symptoms of Narcolepsy
General information about symptoms of Narcolepsy: The symptom information on this page attempts to provide a list of some possible symptoms of Narcolepsy. This symptom information has been gathered from various sources, may not be fully accurate, and may not be the full list of symptoms of Narcolepsy. Furthermore, symptoms of Narcolepsy may vary on an individual basis for each patient. Only your doctor can provide adequate diagnosis of symptoms and whether they are indeed symptoms of Narcolepsy.
List of symptoms of Narcolepsy: The list of symptoms mentioned in various sources for Narcolepsy includes:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness - the most common and usually the earliest symptom; can occur even after adequate nightly sleep
- Daytime sleep attacks
- Falling asleep during laughter
- Falling asleep during routine work
- Frequent nightly waking
- Cataplexy attacks - Sudden episodes triggered by emotion. May be brief (a few seconds) to severe minutes. These have various related symptoms
- Sleep paralysis - temporary paralysis when falling asleep or when waking.
- Hypnagogic hallucinations - dream-like images or sounds occurring when drowsy
- Vivid sounds at sleep onset
- Vivid images at sleep onset
- Disturbed nighttime sleep
- Tossing and turning
- Leg jerks during sleep
- Frequent awakenings
Symptoms of Narcolepsy: The four classic symptoms of the disorder are excessive daytime sleepiness; cataplexy (sudden, brief episodes of muscle weakness or paralysis brought on by strong emotions such as laughter, anger, surprise or anticipation); sleep paralysis (paralysis upon falling asleep or waking up); and hypnagogic hallucinations (vivid dream-like images that occur at sleep onset). Disturbed nighttime sleep, including tossing and turning in bed, leg jerks, nightmares, and frequent awakenings, may also occur. The development, number and severity of symptoms vary widely among individuals with the disorder. It is probable that there is an important genetic component to the disorder as well. Unrelenting excessive sleepiness is usually the first and most prominent symptom of narcolepsy. Patients with the disorder experience irresistible sleep attacks, throughout the day, which can last for 30 seconds to more than 30 minutes, regardless of the amount or quality of prior nighttime sleep. These attacks result in episodes of sleep at work and social events, while eating, talking and driving, and in other similarly inappropriate occasions. 1
The main characteristic of narcolepsy is excessive and overwhelming daytime sleepiness, even after adequate nighttime sleep. A person with narcolepsy is likely to become drowsy or to fall asleep, often at inappropriate times and places. Daytime sleep attacks may occur with or without warning and may be irresistible. These attacks can occur repeatedly in a single day. Drowsiness may persist for prolonged periods of time. In addition, nighttime sleep may be fragmented with frequent wakenings. 2
In addition to overwhelming irresistible sleepiness, there are three other classic symptoms of narcolepsy, which may not occur in all patients:
Cataplexy: sudden episodes of loss of muscle function, ranging from slight weakness (such as limpness at the neck or knees, sagging facial muscles, or inability to speak clearly) to complete body collapse.
Sleep paralysis: temporary inability to talk or move when falling asleep or waking up. It may last a few seconds to minutes.
Hypnagogic hallucinations: vivid, often frightening, dream-like experiences that occur while dozing or falling asleep.
Only about 20 to 25 percent of people with narcolepsy experience all symptoms. The symptoms of narcolepsy, especially the excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy, often become severe enough to cause serious disruptions in a person's social, personal, and professional life and can severely limit activities.
In most cases, the first symptom of narcolepsy to appear is excessive and overwhelming daytime sleepiness. The other symptoms may begin alone or in combination months or years after the onset of the daytime sleep attacks. 2
You should be checked for narcolepsy if:
you often feel excessively and overwhelmingly sleepy during the day, even after having had a full night's sleep;
you fall asleep when you do not intend to, such as while having dinner, talking, driving, or working;
you collapse suddenly or your neck muscles feel too weak to hold up your head when you laugh or become angry, surprised, or shocked; or
you find yourself briefly unable to talk or move while falling asleep or waking up.
More symptoms of Narcolepsy: In addition to the above information, to get a full picture of the possible symptoms of this condition and its related conditions, it may be necessary to examine symptoms that may be caused by complications of Narcolepsy, underlying causes of Narcolepsy, associated conditions for Narcolepsy, risk factors for Narcolepsy, or other related conditions.
Medical articles on symptoms: These general reference articles may be of interest:
1. excerpt from NINDS Narcolepsy Information Page: NINDS
2. excerpt from Narcolepsy: NWHIC
Last revision: June 4, 2003
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