Narcolepsy : Sleep Disorder : Causes

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that causes excessive sleepiness and frequent daytime sleep attacks.

Causes & Risk Factors

(1) Narcolepsy is a nervous system disorder, not a mental illness. Anxiety does not cause narcolepsy.
(2) Experts believe that narcolepsy is caused by reduced amounts of a protein called hypocretin, which is made in the brain. What causes the brain to produce less of this protein is unclear.
(3) Narcolepsy tends to run in families.
(4) Conditions that cause insomnia, such as disrupted work schedules, can make narcolepsy worse.

Tests & Diagnostics

The doctor will perform a physical exam and order blood work to rule out conditions that can cause similar symptoms. Conditions that can cause excessive sleepiness include:

  1. Insomnia and other sleep disorders
  2. Restless leg syndrome
  3. Seizures
  4. Sleep apnea
  5. Other medical, psychiatric, or nervous system diseases

Other tests may include:

  1. ECG (measures the heart’s electrical activity)
  2. EEG (brain activity measurements)
  3. Monitoring of breathing
  4. Genetic testing to look for narcolepsy gene

Tests will also include a sleep study (polysomnogram). The Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT) may be used to help diagnose narcolepsy. This test measures how long it takes you to fall asleep during a daytime nap. Patients with narcolepsy fall asleep much faster than people without the condition.

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