Introduction: Sudden, often positive emotions are typical triggers for cataplexy in patients with narcolepsy-cataplexy (NC). Cataplexy during sexual intercourse and orgasm (orgasmolepsy) has been previously reported, but its frequency and characteristics are poorly known.
Aim: To assess frequency and features of loss of muscle tone during sexual intercourse in a series of patients with NC, other sleep-wake disorders, and healthy controls.
Methods: Review of sleep questionnaires (including the Stanford Cataplexy Questionnaire) of 75 subjects (29 with NC, 26 with other sleep-wake disorders, and 20 healthy controls), followed by an interview with specific focus on muscle loss during sexual activity in suspicious cases.
Main outcome measures: Cataplexy during sexual intercourse and orgasm (orgasmolepsy).
Results: Orgasmolepsy was reported by three NC patients (two female, one male), one male patient with behaviorally induced insufficient sleep syndrome (BIISS) and cataplexy-like symptoms, and none of the healthy controls. In the two female NC patients, orgasmolepsy occurred by each sexual intercourse, and the male patient reported orgasmolepsy only when in a relationship involving emotional commitment and trust. In the patient with BIISS and orgasmolepsy, cataplexy-like symptoms involved unilaterally upper or lower limbs in association with negative emotions or sports activities.
Conclusions: Cataplexy during sexual intercourse is a distinct feature of NC, which can, however, be reported rarely also by patients with other sleep-wake disorders. Insufficient arousal may favor the occurrence of cataplexy and cataplexy-like symptoms, including orgasmolepsy. Hypocretin deficiency and reward dysregulation in narcolepsy may further facilitate this phenomenon and contribute to its repetitive occurrence.