Any one of us may feel drowsy in a stuffy lecture theatre, or as a passenger on a long car journey. Those suffering from narcolepsy, however, feel an uncontrollable desire to sleep at other times, and may indeed drop off in socially embarrassing circumstances. This unusual symptom may be associated with ‘cataplexy’—a sudden loss of postural tone causing collapse without loss of consciousness, often precipitated by strong emotions such as anger or amusement. In a way, these phenomena are nearest to epilepsy, as they presumably result from some paroxysmal disorder of cerebral nerve cells. However, such patients have epileptic seizures no more often than the general population, the EEG whilst awake is always normal, and drugs of a completely different type from those used in epilepsy may produce a favourable response.


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