Narcolepsy - Muscle Control

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Cataplexy

Cataplexy is a sudden, temporary loss of muscle control in a person with narcolepsy. An attack of cataplexy usually is triggered by strong emotional reactions such as laughter, excitement, surprise, or anger. Factors that contribute to the attacks of cataplexy include physical fatigue, stress, and sleepiness.

Severe attacks of cataplexy may result in a complete body collapse with a fall to the ground and risk of injury. Milder forms of cataplexy are more common. These involve regional muscle groups and result in symptoms such as a drooping head, sagging jaw, slurred speech, buckling of the knees, or weakness in the arms. This muscle weakness can be quite subtle. The patient is conscious but usually unable to speak.

Cataplectic attacks may last from a few seconds to several minutes. They may vary from a few per year to numerous attacks per day that could disable the patient. Cataplexy is present in nearly 75% of patients with narcolepsy, according to the National Institutes of Health. The onset of cataplexy may coincide with the onset of excessive daytime sleepiness. However, cataplexy often develops years later. Therefore, the absence of cataplexy should not rule out the diagnosis of narcolepsy.

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