Narcolepsy (part 2)

… continued from last week’s article on Narcolepsy.

In this article I shall further delve into this rare sleeping disorder known as narcolepsy by discussing the causes behind it. Furthermore, as we progress into the article, I shall also reveal whether there is any link behind swine flu vaccines and the development of narcolepsy.

What causes narcolepsy?[1]
Narcolepsy can have numerous causes although most people with narcolepsy are found to have low levels of the neurotransmitter called hypocretin, which is a wakefulness promoter. Neurons produce chemicals called neurotransmitters to communicate with each other as well as control all the biological processes.

Generally, narcolepsy cases are sporadic, which means the disorder occurs in people with no known family history of narcolepsy. However, groups in families can sometimes occur where up to 10% of the people diagnosed with narcolepsy and with cataplexy have reported that they had a close relative with the same symptoms.  Furthermore, in very rare cases, the cause is due to a genetic defect preventing normal production of hypocretin molecules. Even though close relatives of people with narcolepsy statistically have a greater risk of developing the disorder than the general population does, the risk is still lower when compared to diseases that are only genetic.

In the presence of cataplexy, the cause is generally because the brain cells that produce hypocretin are discretely lost. Though cause behind cell loss is unknown, the nature however appears to be autoimmune (when the body’s own immune system starts to attacks itself, resulting in the healthy cells or tissues being destroyed, which happens to be the hypocretin-containing brain cells.

Additionally, other factors play important roles in the progress of narcolepsy too. For example, some rare cases are: traumatic injuries to parts of the brain involved in REM sleep from tumour growth or even other diseases in similar regions.

New target for therapy found in brain tumours



[2] (Joshi, 2013)

Indirect or direct effects on the brain can be applied due to many factors such as:

  1. Stress

[3] ( Glover , 2014)

2. Infections

3. Exposure to toxins

4. Dietary factors

Nutritionists have defended the government's 'Eatwell Plate' [4] (Gibbons, 2014)


5. Hormonal changes, for example, those occurring during puberty or menopause and alterations in a person’s sleep schedule. These can probably contribute to the advancement of narcolepsy as well.

Now, moving onto the question …

Is there a link between swine flu vaccines and narcolepsy?

During my research on this sleeping disorder, I came across some articles with Finnish studies on narcolepsy. These articles portrayed the fact that narcolepsy case numbers had increased after the swine flu vaccines were administered in Finland and Sweden. ‘In Finland, 79 children between the ages of four and nine developed narcolepsy after receiving the Pandemrix vaccine, which is a rate of six in 100,000.'[5] (Medicalxpress, 2011). Therefore, we can conclude that there in fact may very well be a link between the vaccine and narcolepsy however, to ensure that, further studies must be carried out to gather stronger evidence.


… To be continued.


[1] NIH National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes. (n.d.). Narcolepsy Fact Sheet. [online]. [Last updated: January 5th 2015]. Available at: [Accessed 17 Mar. 2016].

[2] Joshi, M. (July 2nd 2013). Brain Tumours- New target for therapy found in brain tumours. [image]. Available at: [Accessed 17 Mar. 2016].

[3] Glover, L. (July 14th 2014). Stress: Appraisal and Adaptation. [image] Available at: [Accessed 17 Mar. 2016].

[4] Gibbons, L. (October 29th 2014). Nutritionists defend government advice on food. [image] Available at: [Accessed 17 Mar. 2016].

[5] Medicalxpress. (September 1st 2011). Swine flu vaccine linked to narcolepsy: Finnish study. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Mar. 2016].




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