Narcolepsy | Diagnosis and Treatment

How is narcolepsy diagnosed?

To diagnose narcolepsy, your clinician will ask for your child's detailed medical history and perform a neurological exam. The clinician will review your child’s symptoms and sleep habits. He or she will also ask specific questions about your child’s sleepiness, such as what situations bring out sleepiness, how often it occurs, and if it is affecting your child’s ability to pay attention in class.

If the clinician suspects that your child may have narcolepsy or another type of sleep disorder, he or she may suggest a sleep study.

  • An overnight sleep study (polysomnogram) is done in a sleep lab to monitor and record brain waves, eye movements, muscle tone, breathing, oxygen levels, heart rate and rhythm, and leg movements.
  • A daytime-nap study or mean sleep latency test records your child’s brain and body activity throughout the day to measure sleepiness.

What are the treatment options for narcolepsy?

Treatment for narcolepsy usually involves a combination of lifestyle changes and medication to reduce sleepiness and treat cataplexy. Medications typically include drugs to help your child stay awake, such as stimulants.

You may need to work with your child’s school to make some of the lifestyle changes needed. These may include:

  • Taking one or two 15-20 minute naps during the day. Naps at mid-morning and after lunch may be especially helpful.
  • Taking frequent breaks from sitting or other sedentary activities to take short walks.
  • Avoiding heavy meals and medications that cause sleepiness.

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