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Saturday, 9 November, 2002, 01:36 GMT
'No-one knew why I couldn't stay awake'
Kerry James
Kerry James suffers from narcolepsy

Kerry James was always sleepy, but following the birth of her second child the problem became more acute.

She would find herself drifting off during conversations and even falling asleep on her feet.

Kerry, 40, of West London, rarely socialised and her quality of life slumped.

Her sleep problems got so bad that she had to leave her job as college lecturer on medical grounds, but despite a barrage of tests no-one was able to tell her what was wrong.

Exhaustion

She worried that she might have chronic fatigue syndrome (ME) or even a thyroid problem, but her GP linked her problems to exhaustion after recently giving birth.

"I used to just fall asleep the moment I sat down, I felt exhausted.

"I could not continue with the lecturing. It was a real, real struggle.

"I would be having a conversation with someone and I would lose it.


I must have seemed extremely lazy and a real sloth

Kerry James

"I started to dream while I was still awake. It was like looking through two doors. You have one set of images which was real then those others that are creeping in and clouding them up.

"People would just say things like it is normal to fall asleep in meetings."

Although Kerry did not realise how serious her problem was, she knew she needed to get help.

Specialist

"I must have seemed extremely lazy and a real sloth.

"I found it really frustrating and could not do anything about it. I would have lots of coffee; do lots of exercise and take glucose tablets, but it did not have any effect."

Her problems started to get progressively worse and soon she was suffering from a complete lack of energy.

She contacted a new GP who referred her to a neurologist and then on to a specialist sleep clinic.

Within just five minutes the specialist was able to confirm that Kerry had narcolepsy.

She was given special medication and noticed an immediate improvement.

Kerry had to give up her lecturing post because of her illness, but has now retrained as a part-time ante-natal teacher and is slowly getting her life back on track.

But she said her recovery could have started five years earlier if doctors had recognised her symptoms. She wants to see better training to help GPs spot sleep disorders.

Disorders

Although sleep disorders are extremely common they are often unrecognised, and frequently go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

Now the first Primary Care Sleep Group, a collaboration between healthcare education specialists Taylor Patten Communications and the British Sleep Society, has been set up to unite GPs with an interest in sleep medicine.

This will allow experts to share their expertise with GPs and ensure they are fully briefed about sleep disorders.

Dr Chris Hanning, consultant in sleep disorders medicine at Leicester General Hospital and chair of the Primary Care Sleep Group Advisory Panel, said the new group would provide a vital support for GPs.

"The importance of good management of sleep disorders in general practice shouldn't be underestimated.

"Insomnia is a good example of a sleep disorder that accounts for a great deal of a GP's time; much can now be done to improve it.

"On the other hand, conditions such as narcolepsy - a highly disabling condition for patients - are relatively rare and few GPs will see sufficient patients to gain sufficient expertise.

"By providing educational support for GPs and linking them in this new national network, we give ourselves the chance to really put sleep disorders on the primary care agenda and put into action best practices throughout the UK."

The first project planned by the group is the establishment of a website to allow GPs to communicate directly with each other and experts.

Experts are already volunteering for the group and GPs are being invited to join.

The Primary Care Sleep Group's email address is primarycaresleep@talk21.com

See also:

31 Dec 99 | Health
04 Mar 98 | Science/Nature
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23 Mar 99 | Health
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