The clinical spectrum of childhood narcolepsy

Emanuela Postiglione, Elena Antelmi, Fabio Pizza, Michel Lecendreux, Yves Dauvilliers, Giuseppe Plazzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Narcolepsy type 1 is a life-long, severe, multifaceted disease often arising in childhood or adolescence. Beyond the classical symptoms (excessive daytime sleepiness, cataplexy, hallucinations, sleep paralysis and nocturnal fragmented sleep), metabolic, endocrinological, psychiatric and psychosocial aspects must be considered. Despite the increased awareness after H1N1 pandemic influenza and vaccination, narcolepsy is still misdiagnosed and unrecognized. The peculiar presentation of symptoms in narcoleptic children could in part explain the misdiagnoses. Excessive daytime sleepiness presenting as chronic drowsiness or irritability could be stigmatized as laziness or misinterpreted as behavior or inattention disorder. The persistent hypotonia and the complex hyperkinetic movements that characterize cataplexy close to the onset, could be misdiagnosed as a movement disorder or as other neurologic conditions. The consequent therapeutic delay could turn into dramatic consequences. The narcolepsy onset, indeed, is associated with abrupt weight gain and sometimes with precocious puberty that require a prompt recognition and treatment to avoid auxological and metabolic complications. Moreover, narcoleptic children could have behavioral and psychiatric disorders ranging from mood to psychotic ones that need ad hoc management. Accordingly, spreading the awareness outside the sleep specialist community is necessary in order to reduce the diagnostic delay and to obtain prompt and multidisciplinary management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-85
JournalSleep Medicine Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Cataplexy
  • Movement disorder
  • Narcolepsy
  • Obesity
  • Precocious puberty
  • Treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Physiology (medical)


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