Narcolepsy Medications and Treatment Options

Getting the right narcolepsy medication can be a complicated, trial and error type of ordeal for patients that suffer from the symptoms of narcolepsy. Some medications for narcolepsy are not suitable for everyone, and for this reason it sometimes takes years for some people to receive the correct combination of medical treatments and drugs.

Who Needs Medication for Narcolepsy?

People suffering with the symptoms of narcolepsy can sometimes get through every day by simply making lifestyle changes. These changes include better sleep schedules, routine naps at set times throughout the day and a well-balanced diet. These are the lucky few who do not need medication. Narcolepsy has some complications that are worse than a mere inconvenience. Those experiencing cataplexy are in real danger of becoming seriously injured at any time during the day. Patients with narcolepsy and cataplexy must have the medication of narcolepsy symptoms.

Narcolepsy is a disorder characterized by sudden, yet brief, periods when sleep is uncontrollable. When seeking medications narcolepsy patients should be prepared to give a complete history to their physician. Patients must report a detailed history of personal medical and health information and keep a journal of sleep disturbances, insomnia, hallucinations and sleep attacks for their doctor when seeking treatment and medications of narcolepsy symptoms.

Symptoms of Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy has a wide range of symptoms that can drastically impact the lives of the people suffering from them. Many of the symptoms are shared among several other sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea. This fact alone makes it very hard to diagnose the disease.

The following is a list of some of these symptoms.

  • E.D.S. or excessive daytime sleepiness is the most common of all narcolepsy symptoms, in fact, in many ways; E.D.S. is narcolepsy when you think about it.
  • Cataplexy is when a person suddenly loses his or her muscle control. This is sometimes mistaken for epilepsy due to the falls it commonly produces. A narcolepsy patient who suffers with cataplexy is at a higher risk for personal injury, than people who don’t.
  • Sleep paralysis is a frightening ordeal that is linked to narcolepsy. Sleep paralysis occurs when a person is falling asleep or just when they’re beginning to wake up. The brain disconnects from the body leaving the person aware, but unable to speak or move. However, it should be stated that many people who occasionally experience sleep paralysis are not always diagnosed with narcolepsy.
  • Hallucinations are when a person hears and/or sees things that are not really there. This is a very common factor found in patients who are suffering from sleep paralysis, as well as a symptom of sleep deprivation.
  • Insomnia is a symptom of narcolepsy.  People with narcolepsy do not actually sleep more hours per day than people without narcolepsy. Their night time sleep is usually interrupted and irregular, causing the strong need to sleep during the day.

Types of Medication and Narcolepsy Treatments

  • Stimulants

Most medications that are used for the treatment of narcolepsy but are not for E.D.S. are stimulants. Stimulants help the patients get through the day feeling energized and help regulate their sleep cycles.  Among these is a wide array of Amphetamines including:

  • Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)
  • Methamphetamine (Desoxin)
  • Amphetamine Salts (Adderall)
  • Methyphendiate (Ritalin)
  • Armodafinil (Nuvigil)
  • Modafinil (Provigil)

There have been many successes and a few failures over the years in the quest to find successful treatments of narcolepsy. One medication, Pemoline (Cylert) was removed from the market due to the risk of liver failure and even death. People taking the listed medications to treat narcolepsy may find some that work and others that don’t. Many neurological disorders share symptoms and treatments with narcolepsy and are often treated with the same drugs.  Like these, trial and error is the key to finding the correct combination of medication for each patient. Some of these medications take several weeks to become truly effective. Sometimes the secret is in a very tight combination. Care should be taken as stimulants should not be taken by people with a history of psychiatric issues or heart complications.

  • Antidepressants

Antidepressants help with mood, but they are also useful in the treatment of R.E.M. or rapid eye movement disruptions, hallucinations, and cataplexy.

Some of the more common antidepressant medications include:

  • Venlafaxine (Effexor SR)
  • Atomoxetine (Strattera)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Protriptyline (Triptil and Vivactil)
  • Imipramine (Janamine and Trofanil)
  • Desipramine (Norpramine and Petrofran)
  • Clomipramine (Anafranil)

A newer drug that is used to treat these same narcoleptic symptoms is Sodium Oxybate (Xyrem). Sodium Oxybate is completely different than the other antidepressants listed, because it has to be taken in separated doses, it is a liquid and it promotes stages three and four of sleep. When taken as directed, Sodium Oxybate can actually eliminate the need for other antidepressants. There are several side effects associated with sodium oxybate.  These side effects include: headache, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and urinary incontinence. A caution to consider are that it is sodium and therefore people with a history of heart disease should not take it.

Other Narcolepsy Treatments

As well as a large number of prescription medications, narcolepsy symptoms can also be treated with lifestyle changes. In most cases these lifestyle changes are an absolute necessity for the person to get the most out of the medication being taken. A “more bang for your buck” mentality should be used when using medications for the treatment of narcolepsy. The following is a list of the changes that people with narcolepsy should make to get the most from their treatment.

  • Proper diet
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and over the counter cold medications
  • Schedule naps throughout the day, 10 to 15 minutes each, especially after meals
  • Improve night time sleeping habits, a regular hour for bedtime and arising helps
  • Avoid night time work
  • Keep a sleep journal handy at all times to record sleep disturbances and daytime sleep deep breathing exercises and stretching
  • Involve all people that you see on a daily basis

Contact your local clinic to request more information about these treatments as well as listing for support groups for narcolepsy and other hypersomnias.

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