Narcolepsy. Signs, Symptoms, Differential Diagnosis, and Management

Tomas Thorne

Last Updated: February 20, 2023



Narcolepsy is a chronic neurologic disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy and less often by hypnagogic hallucinations and sleep paralysis. While patients report excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy as the more frequent symptoms of this condition, excessive daytime sleepiness is generally believed to be the most debilitating. Narcolepsy often is undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for a variety of reasons. Although confirmation of an initial diagnosis requires monitoring of physiologic variables conducted at a sleep center by specialists, the primary care physician has a critical role in the identification and management of this incurable affliction. This article provides recommendations for the diagnosis and management of narcolepsy. The cataplexy associated with narcolepsy can be managed with tricyclic antidepressants. The excessive sleepiness is managed with stimulants but newer agents, such as modafinil, which will be marketed as Provigil, and selegiline hydrochloride, with fewer adverse effects and less abuse potential, may offer means of promoting daytime wakefulness. Groups such as the National Sleep Foundation, Washington, DC, and the Narcolepsy Network, Cincinnati, Ohio, can provide patients with needed support and information.


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