, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 739-752,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 11 Oct 2012

A Practical Guide to the Therapy of Narcolepsy and Hypersomnia Syndromes

Summary

Narcolepsy and other syndromes associated with excessive daytime sleepiness can be challenging to treat. New classifications now distinguish narcolepsy/hypocretin deficiency (also called type 1 narcolepsy), a lifelong disorder with well-established diagnostic procedures and etiology, from other syndromes with hypersomnolence of unknown causes. Klein-Levin Syndrome, a periodic hypersomnia associated with cognitive and behavioral abnormalities, is also considered a separate entity with separate therapeutic protocols. Non hypocretin-related hypersomnia syndromes are diagnoses of exclusion. These diagnoses are only made after eliminating sleep deprivation, sleep apnea, disturbed nocturnal sleep, and psychiatric comorbidities as the primary cause of daytime sleepiness. The treatment of narcolepsy/hypocretin deficiency is well-codified, and involves pharmacotherapies using sodium oxybate, stimulants, and/or antidepressants, plus behavioral modifications. These therapies are almost always needed, and the risk-to-benefit ratio is clear, notably in children. Detailed knowledge of the pharmacological profile of each compound is needed to optimize use. Treatment for other syndromes with hypersomnolence is more challenging and less codified. Preferably, therapy should be conservative (such as modafinil, atomoxetine, behavioral modifications), but it may have to be more aggressive (high-dose stimulants, sodium oxybate, etc.) on a case-by-case, empirical trial basis. As cause and evolution are unknown in these conditions, it is important to challenge diagnosis and therapy over time, keeping in mind the possibility of tolerance and the development of stimulant addiction. Kleine-Levin Syndrome is usually best left untreated, although lithium can be considered in severe cases with frequent episodes. Guidelines are provided based on the literature and personal experience of the author.