Study objectives: Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder whose clinical features include excessive daytime sleepiness, hypnagogic hallucinations, cataplexy, sleep paralysis, and disrupted nocturnal sleep. It has been shown that there may be quite a long interval between the onset of symptoms, and the correct diagnosis. We tested the hypothesis that given their severe symptomatology, these patients would have been diagnosed more often with a variety of psychiatric and neurologic conditions than controls in the year prior to confirmation of their narcolepsy diagnosis.
Design: Using the Province of Manitoba Health database, we compared the diagnoses made in the year prior to initial sleep disorder center evaluation of 77 patients with narcolepsy (33 males, 44 females) and 1,155 matched control subjects from the general population.
Setting: Sleep disorders center in University-based teaching hospital
Measurements and results: Patients were much more likely than controls to be diagnosed with mental disorders (Odds ratio (OR) = 4.0645; 95% confidence limit (CL) = 2.4671-6.6962; p<0.0001) and nervous system disorders (OR= 5.0495; CL = 3.0606 -8.3309; p<0.0001) and there was a trend towards more injuries in these patients (OR =1.6316; CL = 0.9857-2.7007; p=0.0514). We found that cases were statistically much more likely than controls to have received a diagnosis for neurotic disorders (17% of cases), depression (16%), personality disorders (3%) and adjustment reaction (4%). Although the cases had twice as many doctor visits as the controls (9.3 +/- 0.97 (sem) vs. 4.8 +/- 0.17 p<0.0001), only 38% of them had received a diagnosis of narcolepsy in the year prior to sleep specialist evaluation. Neurologists had the highest "success rate" for correct diagnosis: neurologists diagnosed narcolepsy in 55% of the cases they had seen. The other medical practitioners diagnosed narcolepsy in a much smaller percentage of the cases they had seen: 23.5% for internists (excluding neurologists), 21.9% for general practitioners, 11.1% for psychiatrists, and 0% for pediatricians.
Conclusions: In the year prior to documentation of narcolepsy in a sleep disorders center, patients with narcolepsy were diagnosed with a wide variety of mental and neurologic disorders. Our findings are supportive of either the coexistence of these disorders in narcolepsy patients or a high frequency of missed diagnosis by their clinicians. The latter may help explain the very long interval between onset of symptoms and correct diagnosis.