Narcolepsy symptom screeners can help doctors diagnose narcolepsy in people who present with daytime sleepiness.

Narcolepsy is a type of sleep disorder where a person feels very sleepy during the day or waking hours. The condition can lead to symptoms that include falling asleep during activities and difficulty staying awake. It can also cause acute muscle weakness known as cataplexy and vivid dream imagery on falling asleep or after waking up.

A narcolepsy screener helps a person self-assess their symptoms, which can help a doctor make a diagnosis or refer them to a specialist.

This article reviews narcolepsy symptom screeners, their uses, and how they work.

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Narcolepsy symptom screeners provide doctors with information to help them make a diagnosis of narcolepsy in people who present with possible symptoms. The screeners generally consist of self-assessments containing questions and individual answers.

There are several different types of screeners, such as the Epworth Sleepiness Scale and the Swiss Narcolepsy Scale. The Epworth Sleepiness Scale does not screen for narcolepsy symptoms other than sleepiness. One of the most commonly used screeners is the Ullannlinna Narcolepsy Scale — an 11-question survey evaluating several symptoms a person may experience.

Learn about narcolepsy.

There are two main purposes for a narcolepsy symptom screener: referral to a specialist and help with diagnosis.

A person who presents with excessive daytime sleepiness may consult a doctor for assessment, who may refer them to a sleep disorder specialist to determine the exact underlying cause.

However, before referral, they may have a person complete a narcolepsy screener. The self-assessment can help a doctor determine if a referral is necessary or if another reason may be the underlying cause.

A doctor may also use a narcolepsy symptom screener to help support a diagnosis. It can provide an early sleep assessment.

Narcolepsy diagnosis involves a combination of clinical assessment, detailed medical history, and testing in a sleep laboratory. These factors can help rule out other possible causes of the symptoms.

Narcolepsy symptom screeners are typically self-assessments that measure a person’s daytime sleepiness levels and other key symptoms of narcolepsy.

A healthcare professional may provide the assessment to a person who describes daytime sleepiness.

Different screeners pose different questions and have different scoring methods.

For example, the Epworth Sleepiness Scale asks a person to rank how likely they would be to fall asleep during certain activities throughout the day, such as while sitting, watching TV, or riding in a car. A score of 10 or less puts a person within a typical range. A person who scores 11 or higher means they have a high level of daytime sleepiness. These scores do not mean a person has narcolepsy. However, it can help doctors determine if additional tests or a referral are necessary.

By contrast, the Swiss Narcolepsy Scale is a five-question, self-reported survey that a 2018 study showed is more accurate than the Epworth sleepiness scale. The scale asks questions related to cataplexy and awakenings during sleep.

The Ullanlinna Narcolepsy Scale is a set of 11 questions that also asks about unusual sleeping tendencies and cataplexy. It can provide reliable distinctions between people with narcolepsy and sleep apnea, the latter being the most common cause of sleepiness noted in sleep clinics.

Learn more about diagnosing narcolepsy.

The following section answers common questions about narcolepsy.

What are the 5 signs of narcolepsy?

The five most common signs of narcolepsy include:

Having one of these symptoms does not necessarily mean a person has narcolepsy. Other conditions may cause some of them to occur. A doctor will need to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms a person experiences.

What are 2 triggers for narcolepsy?

People may have different triggers for narcolepsy. However, experts believe that strong, sudden emotions may trigger cataplexy. Hormonal changes may also lead to symptoms of narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy also tends to follow a seasonal pattern. People have a higher risk of developing symptoms in the spring and summer which may have to do with the body’s response to certain infections that cause the immune system to attack healthy cells.

How do you test for narcolepsy symptoms?

Doctors may start assessments using a narcolepsy symptoms screener. Self-assessment can help determine whether a person may have narcolepsy or support a referral to a specialist.

Narcolepsy often requires a review of both symptoms and medical history. A doctor or specialist may order sleep tests to help determine whether another cause may be disturbing a person’s sleep patterns and leading to daytime sleepiness.

Narcolepsy symptom screeners provide an early, quick assessment of a person’s likelihood of having narcolepsy. The screeners contain questions that ask a person to assess different symptoms associated with narcolepsy.

Different assessments may provide better results than others, but many can help predict a person’s likelihood of having the condition. A doctor or other specialist may need additional testing and further assessment of a person’s medical history to help make the diagnosis.