A healthcare provider will recommend treatment for narcolepsy after considering the severity of the symptoms, and it may take weeks or months for an optimal regimen to be worked out. Treatment is primarily achieved with medications, including central nervous system stimulants (amphetamines), modafinil, antidepressants, and Xyrem. Lifestyle changes are also an important part of managing narcolepsy.
Although there is no cure for narcolepsy, options are available to help reduce the various symptoms. Narcolepsy treatment is individualized, depending on the severity of the symptoms, and it can take weeks -- sometimes months -- for an ideal regimen to be worked out. Complete control of sleepiness and cataplexy is rarely possible. Also, the treatment can be modified as symptoms change.
Treatment for narcolepsy is primarily achieved with medications, but lifestyle changes are also important.
Depending on the symptoms, common narcolepsy drugs include:
Central Nervous System Stimulants
For decades, doctors have used central nervous system stimulants (amphetamines) for the treatment of excessive daytime sleepiness and to reduce the incidence of sleep attacks.
Amphetamines used to treat narcolepsy include:
- Methylphenidate (Ritalin®)
- Amphetamine salts (Adderall®)
For most people, these medications are quite effective at reducing daytime drowsiness and improving levels of alertness. However, they are associated with a wide array of undesirable side effects, so their use must be carefully monitored.
Common side effects seen with these drugs include:
- Irritability and nervousness
- Disturbances in heart rhythm
- Stomach upset
- Nighttime sleep disruption
People may also develop tolerance with long-term use, leading to the need for increased dosages to maintain effectiveness. In addition, doctors should be careful when prescribing these drugs, and people should be careful when using them because the potential for abuse is high with any amphetamine.