Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Narcolepsy - Highlights



  • The word narcolepsy comes from two Greek words roughly translated as "seized by numbness."
  • Narcolepsy affects around 1 in 2,000 people.
  • The hallmark symptoms of narcolepsy are excessive daytime sleepiness and temporary and sudden muscle weakness (called cataplexy), usually brought on by strong emotions.
  • Narcolepsy is a neurological sleep disorder. It is not caused by mental illness or psychological problems.
  • Narcolepsy most likely involves a combination of genetics and one or more environmental triggers, such as infection, trauma, immune system problems, or stress.

Genetic Basis:

  • Nearly 98% of patients with narcolepsy and cataplexy test positive for specific human leukocyte antigen (HLA) subtypes, particularly HLA-DQB1*0602. This antigen is found in just 20% of the general population.

Risk factors:

  • Narcolepsy symptoms usually first appear in adolescence or young adulthood.
  • Having a family member with narcolepsy presents a 20 to 40 times higher risk of developing the condition compared to the general population.


  • Lifestyle treatment of narcolepsy includes taking three or more scheduled sleep-times/naps throughout the day.
  • The main drug treatments for narcolepsy are:
    • Modafinil (Provigil) for excessive, uncontrollable, daytime sleepiness
    • Armodafinil (Nuvigil) for excessive, uncontrollable, daytime sleepiness
    • Sodium oxybate (Xyrem) for cataplexy (sudden muscle weakness) for excessive daytime sleepiness

Review Date: 07/04/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org)