Fatal Familial Insomnia – The Sleep That Never Comes
Most of us have insomnia or trouble sleeping from time to time but it is nothing like those who suffer from fatal familial insomnia. It has been labeled as the worst genetic disease of all time. It causes the sufferer to die an excruciating death and has no treatment and no cure. It does not show up until the patient is in their late forties or fifties. Doctors can do nothing to relieve the symptoms of sufferers. Nothing can induce sleep and they go for months without sleep. For them dreams and reality are one in the same.
It was discovered, in the Eighteenth Century, by a doctor who had several patients die of what was classified as regular insomnia. In the eighties, the Silvano family, direct descendents of the original family, came forward. They were studied and found to have the same problem. Silvano donated his brain to researchers. This is the main reason that we know so much about fatal familiar insomnia today. It was once thought to be genetic but studies are confirming that it may be transmitted from one person to the next.
As of right now, there have only been about 40 families who have this fatal genetic disorder. This may be because of the late onset. Many do not even know they have it until they reach middle age. By this time, they have children who are also at risk of having this genetic disease. There is no fatal familiar insomnia testing which can predict early onset. It has been compared to mad cow disease in the respect that the proteins of the body simply take over and kill the body. The brain and nervous system can no longer function as they should. Those who once slept fine could no longer close their eyes and find peace. Days and nights all run together in one blur. The body is not asleep and its not fully awake.
Once an individual is diagnosed, their life span is reduced to between one and six years when the individual slips into a coma or develops an infection. It presents itself as simple insomnia and continues to get worse as time goes on. Their sleep cycle begins to slow down and they are no longer able to find rest. The individual experiences profuse sweats, fast breathing, fast heart rate, and has a fever. In later stages, the individual becomes paranoid and has severe panic attacks until the are unable to talk or move. They experience death as it is happening to them. They are aware of everything going on inside them. For anyone who has fatal familiar insomnia, death may very well be the sleep that never comes.