Muscle relaxants such as baclofen are administered for the treatment of muscular stiffness, spasticity of muscles, pains as well as spasms. This drug is an agonist of gamma – aminobutyric acid (GABA, in short form) which helps reduce and manage overexcitement of muscles. This property enables it to treat a wide range of muscular conditions, including pulls, muscular draw, pains, etc. As an off-label use, this drug is used to treat pains associated in the back or lower back. As long as a muscular disorder remains a root cause of a clinical condition, this drug is of use. In recent times, this drug is considered for a few other extended uses. But, can it be used for sleep-related disorders such as narcolepsy? It is important to know about such extended uses of baclofen.

Persistent stiffness or contraction of muscles may often lead to spasticity. These are experienced largely due to conditions like cerebral palsy, diseases in the spinal cord or acute disorders like multiple sclerosis. In the 1970s, baclofen was cleared by the food and drug administration (FDA); the use of this drug has been growing steadily ever since its commercial launch. Its off-label uses extend to treat back pains and a few other muscular conditions.

Baclofen is taken in doses varying from 5 milligrams (mg). As no two muscular conditions are alike, your medication plan may not resemble the treatment plan of someone with a similar condition. Your medication plan is determined by a host of factors namely, your age, gender, the underlying muscular condition as well as how well your system reacts to the first few doses of baclofen. As the drug is likely to trigger a few undesired side effects or adverse reactions, your treating doctor may start the dosage plan at a fairly low level. Upon witnessing minimal / no adverse side effects, the treatment plan is boosted in a slow, but steady manner to 20 mg per day; again, such boosting is done solely based on your muscular condition as well as other pre-existing ailments, if any.

What is narcolepsy and what are its symptoms?

Narcolepsy is a neurological condition. It is known to influence your sleep cycles and also your ability to remain wakeful. The typical signs of this neuro condition include – a temporary impairment of motor function, weird thoughts / dreams, prolonged episodes of sleepiness during daytime, involuntary spells of sleeping, etc. Those who live with narcolepsy may also have a sub-condition called cataplexy – which is marked by a severe loss of strength or inability to make use of your muscles. However, the number of hours of sleep among people living with this sleep disorder is the same as others; the key difference however lies in the poor quality of sleep observed among the former. In other words, people may fall asleep during daytimes even after sleeping “normally” during the nights.

In the US, nearly 1 in 2000 people is estimated to live with this neurological condition. People with this condition are often erroneously treated for mental conditions like depression or bipolar disorders. Narcolepsy may occur at any age and among all genders. In general, treatment plans aim at improving your wake-cycles through drug-based stimulation, consolidation of sleeping patterns or cycles, boosting your muscular wellbeing as well as prompting alertness during your daytimes. However, most of these approaches are limited by issues like intolerance, suboptimal efficacy as well as development of several adverse side effects or allergic reactions.

Use of baclofen to treat narcolepsy

A few years ago, medical studies used baclofen – the muscular relaxant – for the treatment of sleep-wake related disorders and other symptoms of narcolepsy. People who showed little progress with other modes of treatment responded positively to doses of baclofen. In fact, their sleepiness assessment showed a marked improvement (based on establish sleep studies such as Epworth assessment of sleepiness). There was also a reduction in other symptoms such as better muscular wellbeing and a marked increase in motor function.

A compound known as sodium oxybate is widely used (and, is also FDA cleared) for treating sleepiness during daytimes as well as disrupted sleep cycles during night hours. When baclofen is administered (evidenced through animal studies), active spells of daytime wakefulness, better sleeping patterns as well as minimal / nil effects of muscular conditions like cataplexy were observed. The potential of baclofen appears to be more promising than many conventional remedies available for treating sleep-wake cycle disturbances. Medical experts state that the dosages of baclofen for treating narcolepsy are very different from doses given for treating spasms or stiffness of muscles.

A few precautions prior to using baclofen for narcolepsy

If your medical history has conditions like fits, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsies or strokes, other mental conditions like bipolar disorders and schizophrenia – your treating doctor must be made aware of such disorders.  Pregnant women must keep away from baclofen as it may cause some damages to your fetus. Those who are breastfeeding must inform their doctor about their lifestyle, as a few active ingredients of baclofen may get into mother’s milk. Infants who feed on such milk can develop withdrawal problems which may show up as crying persistently or development of feeding problems.

In sum, narcolepsy – a neurological condition – influences your sleep cycles and daytime wakefulness. Signs of this condition include impairment of motor function, weird dreams or prolonged spells of daytime sleep, disturbed sleeping patterns and other sleep-related problems. Another condition known as cataplexy is also likely to develop; this condition shows up as inability to move your muscles. Muscle relaxing drug baclofen is known to yield better outcomes in the treatment plans pursued to treat narcolepsy. As compared to gamma- hydroxybutyrate (also known as GHB) – of which a salt called sodium oxybate is an active ingredient, baclofen showed better episodes of wakefulness during daytimes as well as promoted deeper sleeping cycles during nights. You are advised to consult a qualified medical expert to know the likely uses of baclofen for treating narcolepsy before taking this drug.

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