The first concern in narcolepsy diagnosis is that the patient has an accurate and complete diagnosis. Although it is easy for a narcolepsy Doctor to diagnose narcolepsy using its symptoms, sometimes it is a necessity that the patient goes through some sleep tests. In general, Doctors diagnose narcolepsy using symptoms, family history of narcolepsy, physical examination, and then some sleep test results. These are normally done at a sleep disorder center for an evaluation overnight.
A verbal narcolepsy diagnosis
When the narcolepsy Doctor is making a diagnosis, he/she will usually ask the patients about their daytime sleepiness and if they have any sleep attacks, if they are affected by cataplexy i.e. sudden loss of muscle control, hallucination while falling asleep or waking up or sleep paralysis, i.e. an inability to move or speak while waking up Furthermore, the narcolepsy Doctor may also want to know how long the patient has been having these symptoms and may go as far as ask about their daily habits and common feelings/moods.
Family history of narcolepsy
The patient may be asked if he/she has any relatives with narcolepsy. If it is found that there is a family member who has narcolepsy then it could be used as a conclusive confirmation that the patient is diagnosed as suffering from sleep disorder as well. Verifying the family history and verbal description of the symptoms could be enough for a narcolepsy doctor to draw his or her conclusion but If doubts remain the patient can be referred to a sleep center for some sleep tests such as polysomnographic (PSG) testing.
Polysomnographic (PSG) testing
Here the patient is required to arrive at the sleep test center at least two hours before bedtime. The patient is then “wired” with some monitoring devices that record activity in the body as the patient goes through or fails to go through the different phases of sleep.
The type of sleep they enter into from consciousness will be recorded. If the patience Falling asleep quickly, quickly reaches the REM sleep level without going through the other sleep cycles, Waking up often during the night, then he/she is regarded as being positive for narcolepsy.
In essence, Polysomnography is most useful for ruling out other disorders, such as sleep apnea in people with narcolepsy based on the results of the sleep tests, the patient’s symptoms, and sleep habits as recorded in a sleep diary. Polysomnographic testing is not the only sleep test used to diagnose narcolepsy. There are two others, the Multiple sleep latency tests (MSLT) and the Hypocretin test.
Multiple Sleep Latency Test (MSLT)
Also called a nap study this study may be said to be complementary to the overnight PSG as is usually done the day after the PSG testing. It basically measures how easily a patient falls asleep and also falls into REM sleep during a day time nap based on short naps taken every two hours and lasting up to about 20 minutes.
Narcoleptics are known to fall asleep in about five minutes or even less and can move into REM sleep during at least two of the four naps. In contrast, normal sleepers take about 10 to about 14 minutes to fall asleep during the day and don’t fall into REM sleep. In this test, the narcolepsy doctor records eye movements, muscle tone, and brain activity with small devices attached to the head.
When explaining the cause of narcolepsy we mentioned that Recent studies suggest that the cause of narcolepsy is a result of a deficiency in a chemical called Orexin (sometimes called hypocretin 1 and 2 or A and B). This chemical is found in a brain fluid called cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord and is used to control sleep patterns i.e. activates arousal and regulates sleep. So the hypocretin test measures the levels of hypocretin in the patient’s body. Low levels of hypocretin make it likely that the patient has narcolepsy.
The narcolepsy doctor can also conduct a narcolepsy diagnosis using some physical examination. In this instance, the narcolepsy doctors will examine the patient to see if there are any signs of other possible causes for the symptoms such as other sleep disorders like sleep apnea, or Infections, Certain thyroid diseases, Drug or even alcohol use. There are several sleep centers experienced in narcolepsy diagnosis. Narcolepsy Resources – Click Here For professional and comprehensive help and resources
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Also Read: Definition of Narcolepsy and other terms used in the website