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Prim Care. 2005 Jun;32(2):389-413.

Narcolepsy and disorders of excessive somnolence.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, Sleep Disorders Center, University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, 200 Hawkins Drive, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA.


Recent studies provide valid criteria that help differentiate idiopathic narcolepsy from other disorders of excessive daytime somnolence [3]. Research to date suggests that idiopathic narcolepsy might properly be considered a disorder of excessive sleepiness with dysfunctional REM-sleep mechanisms, clinically evidenced as cataplexy and electrophysiologically recognized as SOREMPs. Given these criteria, a diagnosis can generally be made using a combination of history, PSG, and MSLT. Traditionally, the medical treatment of idiopathic narcolepsy has centered on a two-drug regimen (stimulants for sleepiness and TCAs for cataplexy and auxiliary symptoms). Some newer medications are proving efficacious for sleepiness with minimal adverse effects, whereas others may provide a single-drug regimen that simultaneously addresses sleepiness and cataplexy [18]. New research has allowed some experts to hypothesize that idiopathic narcolepsy may be the result of a genetic predisposition to autoimmune disease [176]. It is possible that aberrant genetic coding of elements in the hypocretin/orexin systems allows a sensitivity to inducible and possibly virally mediated changes, which leave cells in the lateral hypothalamus susceptible to autoimmune attack [96]. As such, genetic screening of high-risk individuals might eventually rationalize the prophylactic use of immunosuppressants in some instances. In the future, for atypical cases(poorly responsive to therapy), genetic, CSF, and brain imaging studies, and possibly even neuronal transplantation may prove beneficial in the assessment and treatment of idiopathic narcolepsy.

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