Monday, March 29, 2010

Narcolepsy & “Fainting Spells”

Recently in the New York Times Dr. Lisa Sanders described the mysterious case of a woman’s fainting spells. For several months the 49-year-old nurse had been fainting almost daily.

She would feel a “fluttering sensation” in her stomach. Then suddenly she would fall out on the floor.

She spent two nights in the hospital undergoing tests. But everything was normal. Her heart rhythms and blood pressure were fine.

The results baffled her physician. So he sent her to see specialists.

One of them thought the fainting spells might be seizures. But further testing found no unusual brain activity.

The case was solved when she suddenly collapsed while meeting with one of her doctors.

“Her sudden collapse looked as if a switch had been thrown and all her muscles just turned off,” wrote Sanders.

The doctor realized that she hadn’t actually fainted. She never lost consciousness during the episode. She was aware of her surroundings and could hear him speak. And the episode ended quickly. As soon as it was over, she felt fine.

He concluded that she was suffering from “cataplexy.” It is a unique symptom of

Cataplexy involves a sudden loss of muscle tone while you are awake. Your head may drop, or your knees may buckle. You may completely fall out on the floor. Episodes of cataplexy tend to be triggered by a strong emotion such as laughter or surprise.

Narcolepsy also tends to involve excessive daytime sleepiness. Frequent naps are common. And sudden, irresistible “sleep attacks” may occur in unusual situations. Narcolepsy may occur without cataplexy.

Today the Boston Globe
described how 26-year-old Julie Flygare is battling narcolepsy and cataplexy. In three weeks she plans to run the Boston Marathon.

She is one of four women who will be running to raise funds for Wake Up Narcolepsy. Flygare is sharing her story on the REM Runner blog.

Learn more about
narcolepsy. Read a narcolepsy case study on

Get help for an ongoing sleep problem at an AASM-accredited sleep center near you.

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