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There is no definite cure for narcolepsy but treatment can make a big difference. Management usually requires medication but strategies for coping can also help. Medication varies according to the symptom that needs to be controlled:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness used to be managed by stimulant drugs such as amphetamines. These, however, have dangerous side effects. Today, treatment with modafinil is more common. Modafinil’s side effects are mild, but include nausea and nervousness.
  • Cataplexy is treated with anti-depressants, sodium oxybate, or clomipramine hydrochloride. These have side effects, including nausea and headaches in the case of sodium oxybate. Use of sodium oxybate is restricted, especially in children and teenagers.
  • Hallucinations and disturbed sleep: these may be treated with sodium oxybate.

Lifestyle advice includes trying to avoid stimulants such as coffee in the evening, and to exercise each day. It’s also good to keep to regular eating and sleeping patterns. Avoiding things that induce daytime tiredness – large meals, for example, or drinking alcohol – can also help. Many people find taking five or six regular catnaps each day is a good idea. Also, relaxation before bedtime – taking an aromatherapy bath, for instance – can help with quality of sleep.

Living with narcolepsy

It is illegal for people with narcolepsy to drive, so you may have to change job if you develop this condition later in life. It is obviously also important for someone with narcolepsy not to be responsible for working heavy or potentially dangerous machinery. If you are diagnosed with narcolepsy, you should tell your employers; they may be able to restructure your work, and should, in any event, be sympathetic.

Similarly, if your child has narcolepsy, you should let the school know and arrange to talk to them about your child’s needs. However distressing it is, narcolepsy is not usually life-threatening; drugs combined with a sensible lifestyle can prevent it interfering with normal life too much.

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