The medical and economic burden of narcolepsy: Implications for managed care

Michael J. Thorpy, George Hiller

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: The neurologic disorder narcolepsy results from dysregulation of the sleep-wake cycle and is primarily characterized by chronic, severely excessive daytime sleepiness and cataplexy, an emotionally induced muscle weakness. The prevalence of narcolepsy is approximately 0.05%, and onset generally occurs during the first 2 decades of life. Narcolepsy is believed to be an autoimmune disorder with destruction of hypocretin-producing neurons in the lateral hypothalamus. OBJECTIVES: To provide an enhanced understanding of narcolepsy and establish the need for early diagnosis and rapid initiation of effective treatment for patients with narcolepsy. DISCUSSION: Narcolepsy reduces daily functioning and is associated with a substantial medical and economic burden, with many patients being on full disability. The annual direct medical costs are approximately 2-fold higher in patients with narcolepsy than in matched controls without this condition ($11,702 vs $5261, respectively; P <.0001). Further contributing to the overall burden is a lack of recognition of the signs and symptoms of narcolepsy and an absence of easily measurable biomarkers, resulting in a diagnostic delay that often exceeds 10 years and may be associated with misdiagnosis and inappropriate resource utilization. Because narcolepsy generally has an onset in childhood or in adolescence, is often misdiagnosed, has no known cure, and requires lifelong treatment, it is an important disease from a managed care perspective. Clinical features, as well as objective testing, should be used to ensure the timely diagnosis and treatment of patients with narcolepsy. CONCLUSION: Policies for the diagnosis and treatment of narcolepsy should be based on the current treatment guidelines, but they should also encourage shared decisions between clinicians and patients to allow for individualized diagnostic and treatment choices, as suggested in best practice recommendations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)233-240
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Health and Drug Benefits
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2017


  • Cataplexy
  • Chronic sleepiness
  • Cost containment
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Managed care
  • Narcolepsy
  • Prevalence
  • Rapid eye movement sleep

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Strategy and Management


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