Narcolepsy: What You Need to Know to Protect Your Family

I’ve been known to doze off occasionally at odd times. My dad does this and so did my grandfather. And I know that’s one of the symptoms of narcolepsy.

My grandfather would doze off while driving at night. Grandpa was so bad that after the third car accident, I was paid to ride home with my grandfather from the racetrack each night after our horses ran their races. My main job was to keep him awake on the way home.

RETROFUNK baby bye driving babies narcolepsy
Yeah… there were times when I wanted to do this to Grandpa.

Despite all of this falling asleep drama, no one in my family has ever been diagnosed with narcolepsy. The symptoms for each of my family members are not that severe.

But recent research shows that there just might be a genetic component to this neurological disorder.

The risk for family members of a patient with narcolepsy is high, according to researchers like Maurice Ohayon, MD, DSc, PhD. Ohayon published his findings in the SLEEP 2016 abstract supplement.

Narcolepsy affects approximately 200,000 people in the U.S. These people carry a genetic predisposition to the disorder. About 25% of the U.S. population carries the gene, but only one in 500 will go on to develop narcolepsy. The bottom line is that if you have a family member who has narcolepsy, your chances of having it also increase 75-fold.

Knowing the symptoms of narcolepsy is key

If you are wondering if someone you love has narcolepsy, you’ll want to encourage that person to see a sleep specialist who can determine if their symptoms indicate narcolepsy or some other issue that can be medically addressed. It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of narcolepsy:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS): EDS is a real problem for people with narcolepsy. Quality of life issues affected by the disease include exhaustion, cloudy thinking, lack of energy, memory lapses and depression. These quality of life issues are reported regardless of how much sleep they had the night before.
  • Cataplexy: Cataplexy is the sudden loss of muscle tone which contributes to a general feeling of weakness and a loss of voluntary muscle control (imagine suddenly losing the ability to stand or walk). The onset of cataplexy can be prompted by an intense emotional outbursts.
  • Hallucinations: Some people with narcolepsy see or hear things that aren’t really there. Realistic and sometimes frightening, these hallucinations can happen during waking hours or when falling asleep for the night.
  • Sleep paralysis: Sleep paralysis is the inability to speak or move when waking up for the morning or going to sleep at night.  Thankfully, these are brief episodes that gradually resolve themselves .

As Ohayon, says, “We want to look at the family… because if we know that somebody is in the family of a narcoleptic, then maybe some action can be taken earlier, so we can avoid a lot of the issues that come with this disorder.”

Do you have family members that suffer from the symptoms of narcolepsy described above? Then it might be wise to bring the family together for a talk about the quality of life issues surrounding narcolepsy and its effect on the family.

Donald Blake

Donald Blake

Donald Blake has a BS in Communication Studies. He has a lengthy tenure in the healthcare, media and education fields. He is dedicated to improving the lives of those with rare diseases through his knowledge of healthcare and communications.

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