They say, sound sleep is a bliss. It helps you to wake up fresh, energetic and keeps your mind balanced, well activated, and controlled. But, there is a small section of people, who cannot sleep at all! And this condition is known as fatal familial insomnia (FFI), which is one of the extremely rare brain disorders which adversely affects the sleep and nervous system of that person. The deprivation of sleep gradually leads to deterioration of mental and physical functions resulting in death. It is essentially an autosomal dominant disorder which involves progressive insomnia and degeneration of an essential part of the brain, known as, thalamus, which regulates sleep.
As mentioned before, it is a rare disorder caused by a mutation in the prion protein. There are two types of FFI, inherited and sporadic insomnia. The inherited FFI is caused due to gene mutation and the sporadic FFI is caused spontaneously without genetic mutation. However, sporadic is further rare compared to inherited FFI. To know more about fatal familial insomnia symptoms read further:
Symptoms of Fatal Familial Insomnia
A person suffering from FFI can start experiencing fatal symptoms from anywhere between 40 to 60 years of age. But, recently it has been found that there are some cases where a patient starts experiencing the symptoms from as early as 30 years age. A person generally lives for another six months to two years after the symptoms become apparent.
The survival period also depends on the severity of the disorder, immune system of the person, and his or her response to drugs and medication, etc. According to experts, there is a specific stage wise occurrence of changes in the health condition of a person, in which he or she experiences certain symptoms at each different stage. Given below is a breakdown of those stages and symptoms experienced at that particular stage.
Stage 1: In this stage a person experiences sudden decrease in sleep, which is further accompanied with panic attacks and phobias, etc. This stage lasts for around four months.
Stage 2: This stage can be characterized as an aggravation of the previous stage, in which the person experiences complete loss of sleep which is coupled with hallucination, both visual and auditory, and false beliefs, and extra alertness which does not allow them to soothe and calm the mind. This phase lasts for another four months.
Stage 3: This stage is characterized by complete loss of sleep, rapid weight loss, and extremely diminished mental performance, where a person looks similar to a psychiatric patient. This stage lasts for three months.
Stage 4: In this final stage of FFI, a person suffers from dementia and stops responding at all. He slowly starts entering a coma due to total sleeplessness and dies eventually. This stage lasts around four to six months.
Apart from this, some other fatal familial insomnia symptoms that are accompanied with the aforementioned symptoms are, stupor, fever, excessive sweating, high blood pressure, increased heart rate, myosis, living in a dream like state, difficulty in speaking, recalling, and responding, muscle spasms, muscle contractions, and tremors, etc. These were the few important stages in which the fatal familial insomnia symptoms are seen till the patient gradually succumbs to death.
As mentioned above, there is no treatment or cure for this disease but early diagnosis of this disorder can help one prolong the life span of a patient. If not, it helps the patient get some relief from the symptoms. Doctors ask patients about the symptoms and their family history, and also conduct various tests to diagnose FFI. Patient is initially prescribed with sleep inducing medicines but they too become ineffective after a certain period, but some symptomatic relief can be provided by experts.
Though fatal familial insomnia is rare, it is essential for every person suffering from insomnia to visit a physician regularly, as a sign of precaution and to avoid unwanted and irreversible events in life.