Study Objective Narcolepsy type 1 (NT1) is considered a chronic, incurable disease. Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) is typically the most troublesome symptom, and more difficult to control by pharmacologic treatment than cataplexy. Although many NT1 patients are monitored by regular follow-ups, the purported relentless persistence of EDS has rarely been the object of longitudinal studies.
Methods Retrospective analysis of 26 well-defined hypocretin-deficient NT1 patients who underwent longitudinal assessments of Epworth sleepiness scale (ESS) scores under stable pharmacotherapy. We present detailed case reports of four patients with unusual spontaneous improvement.
Results Over a mean observation period of 5 years, changes in ESS scores between first and last examination were ≤4 points in 19 patients (73%). Three patients deteriorated by 5 points, four patients ameliorated by 7-11 points. Among the latter, subjective sleepiness resolved in all four patients, and three of them continued showing ESS scores <11 after cessation of their pharmacotherapy. Without therapy, two patients did not fulfill anymore the ICSD-3 multiple sleep latency test criteria (mean sleep latency >8 minutes), one of whom did not fall asleep during maintenance of wakefulness test. Multiple linear regression analysis identified higher cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) hypocretin level (p < 0.001) and absence of fragmented nighttime sleep (p = 0.001) as independent associates of EDS improvement.
Conclusions The longitudinal course of NT1-related sleepiness is not invariably stable, but included spontaneous deterioration or improvement in 27%. Spontaneous improvement can persist after treatment discontinuation and resemble remission. Milder hypocretin deficiency and good nighttime sleep may predict a more favorable disease course.