What is Kleine-Levin sleep syndrome and how is it treated?

Kleine-Levin Syndrome (KLS) is a rare condition that belongs to the recurrent hypersomnias group and is generally considered to be a neuropsychological disorder. An individual with hypersomnia experiences extreme lethargy and sleepiness both during the day and at night; a person will tend to sleep for hours longer than what should be required for normal sleep maintenance.

In light of the fact that hypersomnia is fairly common in our society due to the demands of daily life, it can be difficult to determine when someone has a true medical problem from when someone merely has a hectic schedule. Kleine-Levin Syndrome predominantly affects adolescent males, although it can also affect any age group and has even been linked to some females.

There are less than a thousand reported cases of KLS, but it is likely that many more people have suffered from the condition and have been misdiagnosed due to the lack of information on the syndrome itself. KLS is also characterized by irritability, bulimia and hyperphagia binge eating behaviors, a lack of inhibitions, and hypersexuality. In general, KLS episodes occur for days or weeks at a time, and then the symptoms disappear for a few days or longer before recurring.

Many patients who suffer from Kleine-Levin Syndrome have been misdiagnosed with such other ailments as depression, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), and encephalitis. Sometimes the symptoms go untreated because a parent might attribute the excessive sleepiness and irritability with puberty or laziness.

Although the causes of the disorder are unknown to the medical community, there has been a link made between KLS and adolescent boys who take part in sports with weight requirements, such as wrestling, gymnastics, or bodybuilding. Kleine-Levin can lead to scholastic underachievement since adolescents become so distracted and almost stupefied by the episodes that this syndrome brings on.

Unfortunately, many sufferers have received improper treatment due to misdiagnosis, and so the condition persists and can even intensify. If an adolescent boy acts out in a sexually uninhibited way in front of his peers, it can have severely adverse psychological effects. Exhibiting symptoms of the syndrome can seem quite involuntary when someone is in the midst of a KLS episode, but the repercussions can be incredibly embarrassing.

These latent side effects alone could require extensive counseling to come to terms with, particularly when you take into consideration the fragile ego of an adolescent male. Psychiatric help should always be instituted in conjunction with medical treatments.

The available treatments for Kleine-Levin Syndrome are limited, but there are some treatments that can be preventative and others that are generally used during a KLS episode. Lithium and carbamazepine treatments have been cited as fairly effective measures for prevention of episodes.

Psychostimulant drugs are used to help curb the effects of KLS episodes as they occur. One of the most widely accepted drugs that have been highly effective is methylphenidate, which is also used to treat ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), brain dysfunction, brain damage, cerebral dysfunction, and Hyperkinetic Child Syndrome.

Case studies have shown that the use of methylphenidate can reduce the occurrence of KLS episodes or potentially stop them altogether. As the medical community gains understanding about the causes and symptoms of Kleine-Levin Syndrome, it is hopeful and likely that the treatments will progress.

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