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The most obvious symptom of narcolepsy is that it can cause sudden sleep attacks, when your child may fall asleep very quickly and without any warning. However, there are other symptoms of narcolepsy too. Sometimes children will have episodes of cataplexy, when they collapse without going to sleep. Cataplexy causes a sudden loss of muscle control and it often happens when your child is particularly emotional such as laughing. Many children with narcolepsy will also suffer from drowsiness during the day and they may experience extremely vivid dreams and wake up often during the night. Sometimes they will experience hypnogogic or hypnopompic hallucinations, which are vivid dreams that happen while falling asleep or waking up. In some cases, children may also experience sleep paralysis at these times, which can temporarily prevent them from moving or speaking even though they are awake.
Narcolepsy is a brain disorder that is often caused by not having enough of a chemical called hypocretin, which the brain needs to keep it awake. Sometimes the immune system can mistakenly attack the cells that produce or respond to this brain chemical, resulting in narcolepsy. However, there are other causes of narcolepsy that aren't fully understood yet. Some people have narcolepsy even though their hypocretin levels are normal. It isn't always possible to find out exactly what is responsible for the problem, but help is available to help you and your child to manage this long term condition. Narcolepsy is associated with a genetic predisposition and there often other family members with narcolepsy symptoms, even though they may not have been diagnosed.
If your child keeps falling asleep during the day and you suspect he or she might have narcolepsy, it is important to seek help from a doctor who specializes in sleep problems. Narcolepsy doesn't have any serious physical symptoms, but it can have a dramatic effect on your child's daily life. Many cases of narcolepsy aren't diagnosed for many years, which can leave people struggling with these disruptive symptoms on their own. It's important that you and your family get the support that you need. You should seek medical advice if you notice any of the symptoms of narcolepsy or if your child is having any kind of sleep problem that is affecting his or her daily life.
The symptoms of narcolepsy can be very distinctive, but sometimes the cause of your child's drowsiness and sleep problems won't be clear at first. The doctor will want to discuss his or her sleep patterns and any specific issues that you have noticed. It may also be necessary to run some tests in order to rule out other sleep disorders. In some cases, an overnight study at a specialist sleep clinic may be needed. The doctor may also want to check for physical causes of symptoms like daytime tiredness, such as an underactive thyroid gland.
If your child is diagnosed with narcolepsy, the doctor will be able to give you advice on managing the condition. We don't yet have a cure for narcolepsy, but there are approaches that can help with the symptoms.
Some of the most effective treatments for narcolepsy are lifestyle changes that can minimize the effects on daily life. Having a consistent sleep schedule can help to regulate patterns of sleep and wakefulness. It will be important for your child to go to bed at the same time each night and to enjoy a full night's rest. Children and teenagers with narcolepsy can also benefit from regular naps during the day. Although this can be difficult to manage, many schools are willing to help once they understand what is going on with your child. Taking a short nap during a break from classes could make coping with the school day a lot easier if there is a quiet place where your child can rest.
Other treatments are also available, including medication that can help to keep your child awake during the day, to prevent attacks of cataplexy, and to help them to get a better night's sleep. Although many children can manage without medication, when the symptoms are severe or they are having a significant effect on your child's wellbeing, medication can be an effective option. Medication for narcolepsy usually involves taking a tablet, capsule, or a dose of liquid medicine every day. Different medications can be taken at different times of the day to achieve different effects, such as boosting wakefulness during the school day or encouraging better sleep at night.
In addition to tackling the symptoms of narcolepsy, it can be important to address the emotional impact this condition can have on both your child and the rest of the family. Talking to your doctor can help, as can joining a support group for other people affected by the condition.