I wrote a very long post a few days ago, then somehow lost it. If anyone has one or both of these sleep disorders, or has knowledge of them, please respond.
My sister suffers from narcolepsy/cataplexy, and I am beginning to think my 18 year old son is showing signs of narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is usually characterized by unusually excessive daytime sleepiness, often causing the sufferer to take multiple naps. Cataplexy is an attack of muscular weakness that often goes hand in hand with narcolepsy. The person's face may kind of droop, or their head will droop down (like when you fall asleep sitting up), their knees may buckle and they may get slurred speech.
My sister's excessive daytime sleepiness became so bad that she eventually had to leave her job on disability. She was a police officer and all the stimulant medications they tried her on could not stop her from falling asleep on the job. Obviously, that was not a job she could afford to 'catnap' during, so she had to be relieved of her duties. She no longer works outside the home, because she requires two 3 hour naps during her 'waking' hours, making it very difficult to find a job that can accomodate her condition.
If she is somewhere and cannot take a nap, she begins to get really weak muscles and starts slurring her words, and eventually suffers almost full muscle paralysis. As long as she can nap approx. every 3 and half to 4 hours, she won't get the cataplexy episodes.
My son has developed extreme sleepiness in the last 6 months and his doctor tested his thyroid to see it that was the problem. Since it wasn't, we think he's possibly showing signs of narcolepsy, since it can run in families. He'll probably go for a sleep study lab test in the summer when school's out.
Picky, thanks very much for responding. From your sister's experience, I believe even more that each case is different. If I took even ONE three-hour nap during the day, I wouldn't sleep at night. My cataplectic episodes cause me to fall, unable to stop myself, put out my hands, call for help, or anything due to what some sources call "rigid" tightening of muscles, but what feels more like loosening, weakening. When I taught high school, I fell at home on a wool rug, and scraped my face. When students asked me what was wrong, I told them I'd fallen. But I was met with disbelief. The unspoken question was in their eyes: Why didn't you stop yourself, then?
The information I have says that only people w/ narcolepsy can have cataplexy, but only a fraction of them do.
chery, my sister seems to have a more mild manifestation of cataplexy than you, because she never falls down. She becomes aware that an 'attack' is about to come on, and sits down. Her speech will become really slurred and her muscles become so weak she can't move her arms or anything, but she can manage to stay seated without falling from the chair, until the episode passes.
For her, the narcolepsy is far more debilitating because she can't go anywhere for more than 3 and half hours or she'll need to sleep. She misses out on any trips or events where there won't be any place she can lie down for a nap. Everything has to worked around her sleeping. For her son's graduation, she had to eat an early lunch so she could fit her 3 hour nap in before the ceremony. Then she had to nap for 3 hours after the ceremony before we could have the family dinner to celebrate. This meant we couldn't have the dinner until 8:30 which was late for the grandparents, but having it that late was the only way my sister could have attended her own son's graduation dinner. So the narcolepsy is more bothersome for her than the cataplexy, which is a more rare occurence. I can empathize with anyone who suffers from these conditions, because I've seen how much it disrupts my sister's life.