It is hard to say exactly how many people there are with narcolepsy because a lot of cases are not properly diagnosed. Much of the reason for this is because the severity of the disorder can vary considerably from one person to the next.
Another reason it is so underdiagnosed in a lot of people is because the symptoms aren’t nearly as apparent as they are in obvious cases. It can be hard for physicians to diagnose when symptoms only appear occasionally. It is however suspected that more than 200,000 men and women all over the United States suffer from narcolepsy.
For people that suspect they might have this disorder, there are diagnosis criteria that can be used to help determine if narcolepsy is the cause of their sleep problems. In the ICSD, International Classification of Sleep Disorders, it describes two different sets of criteria that are commonly used to diagnose narcolepsy. One set refers to narcolepsy and cataplexy together, and one set refers to narcolepsy without cataplexy.
Diagnosing Narcolepsy in Patients that also have Cataplexy
When the function of the muscles is suddenly and unexpectedly lost, it is referred to as what is known as cataplexy. In some people this will only cause a person’s facial features to droop temporarily, and in others it causes the muscles in the body to collapse completely. When symptoms are minor a person may only experience speech that is slurred and the knees or neck may become weak.
Diagnosing Narcolepsy in Patients that do not have Cataplexy
When narcolepsy is being diagnosed in a patient that does not have cataplexy there is a different set of criteria that is used. In making this type of diagnosis, the following factors are normally taken into consideration.
- Results that are obtained from a polysomnography. This is a technique that is used for sleep measurement that shows distinctive patterns commonly associated with narcolepsy.
- When excessive sleepiness during the day exists.
- When the symptoms experienced are not a result from some type of medical or mental condition.
- Other factors that is commonly associated with extreme sleepiness.
The cases of narcolepsy that are the most easy to diagnose are those where extreme sleepiness and other factors that are associated with it are present.
Extreme Sleepiness during the Day
Extreme sleepiness during the daytime hours is usually the first symptom that people with narcolepsy experience. Some people with narcolepsy only experience the feeling of being drowsy a couple of times throughout the day. Then there are others that do not have the ability to keep from falling asleep. What is dangerous is people with narcolepsy will frequently fall asleep at some of the worst times possible. This can happen at any time, while they are driving, shopping for groceries, and other places that can easily result in a serious situation.
Another symptom that is often noticed in people with narcolepsy is referred to as automatic behaviors. When they are engaged in conversation and other activities, it will usually continue even after they fall asleep.