Page last updated at 14:57 GMT, Tuesday, 5 August 2008 15:57 UK

Laughter threatens woman's health

Kay Underwood (Alistair Langham/Leicester Mercury/PA Wire)
Kay Underwood says many people think she is joking when she collapses

A Lincoln-based student wants to raise awareness about a condition which could paralyse her if she gets the giggles.

Kay Underwood, 20, of Barrow Upon Soar, Leicestershire, has cataplexy, which means her muscles weaken when she laughs, causing her to fall over.

The University of Lincoln architecture student has in the past collapsed 40 times in a single day.

She said many people think that she is joking when her condition does make her fall over.

Emotion cause

Ms Underwood was diagnosed as having cataplexy a year ago, but believes she has had it for about four or five years.

She said: "I think a lot of people, if I've told them about it and they've not seen it, would quite like to see me do it (collapse), so they try to make me laugh.

"Quite a few people have thought I'm still strange and 'Is she making it up?'

"And if I collapse a lot of people have thought I'm just putting it on."

Cataplexy is a sudden weakening of the muscles brought on by strong emotions like excitement or anger, but Ms Underwood's condition is triggered by laughter.

Her condition also includes narcolepsy, which means she can experience sudden bouts of sleepiness.

Doctors are not quite sure what causes it, but it may be hereditary.

Ms Underwood has shown some improvement after being referred to Leicester General Hospital's sleep disorders service and a course of medication.

She now hopes to get back her driving licence, which she had to surrender on health grounds.


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