Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Causes of Narcolepsy

For some sleep disorders, prescription sleeping aids are used to control certain symptoms as in the case of insomnia. However, for narcolepsy, a different kind of treatment is necessitated altogether. Usually the symptoms identifying narcolepsy surface at any time during the patient's life until he or she reaches the age of 50. In most cases, on the other hand, these are known to more commonly manifest during the adolescent years.

Since this particular sleep disorder is persistent, the symptoms are most liable to vary in terms of their frequency and severity. Nevertheless, narcolepsy has no known cure, thus, whatever symptom may arise should not be expected to disappear totally.

What makes narcoleptic sleeping pattern different?

The usual sleeping pattern entails entering a phase referred to as “Non-Rapid Eye Movement sleep (NREM)” prior to the “Rapid Eye Movement sleep(REM),” which is considered as the deepest part of sleep. The transition between these two phases takes up at least a couple of hours in which the brain waves gradually slow down as it enters REM sleep where dreams ought to take place. However, in the case of narcoleptics, they do not undergo the NREM phase anymore. Instead, they move straight to the REM phase. They do this even during uncommon times for sleeping which is during the day. Because theyproceed to REM right away, they also have the same syndromes associated with this stage; just as abruptly as they experience REM, they have these in the same way, too.

The Brain Connection

Hypocretin, a brain chemical, plays a significant role in maintaining our state of wakefulness and in assuring that we experience and stay in the REM stage at the right time during our sleep. However, for narcoleptics, the brain cells responsible for activating these chemicals are in a very damaged condition. This leads to a very low production of hypocretin, which explains the abnormality behind narcolepsy. However, the reason behind the damage to the brain cells responsible for producing hypocretin remains indeterminable. Some theories point out to infection and abnormal immune response as the culprits for the damage. Apart from the above-mentioned explanation, narcolepsy is also believed to be hereditary. As of present, research determining the details of these explanations are still being conducted.

The Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) Factor

Human leukocyte antigens (HLAs) are considered to make up a part of our body's defense mechanism. They are genetically identified proteins located on the surface of our white blood cells. The discovery that determined the high concentration of these HLAs in narcoleptics led to the assumption that narcolepsy is an autoimmune disorder. This makes it synonymous to other autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis and ankylosing spondylitis, which are both associated with having high levels of HLAs. Theory has it that this autoimmune disorder led to the loss of necessary brain cells in the case of narcoleptics. Environmental factors such as infection or trauma are held responsible for triggering the autoimmune system to attack normal brain cells. Consequently, this resulted to the damage and eventual destruction of neurons as well as the disappearance of neurotransmitter chemicals.

Resource Box: Maricel Modesto is a writer and editor who writes for various health and lifestyle magazines.

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