Factors including gender, geographic region, employment status, and choice of accompanying medication play a role in determining a narcolepsy patient’s medication usage. This is according to an abstract published in the journal Sleep and presented at the SLEEP 2017 conference.

The researchers studied 970 assessments involving 849 patients with narcolepsy. Prior to this publication, the researchers note, there were no studies that pinpointed what influences individuals with narcolepsy to use, combine, or discontinue different medications.

This research revealed specific demographic characteristics that the participants had in common for certain narcolepsy medications. For instance, participants who reported using sodium oxybate (also known by the brand name Xyrem) mostly lived in the United States, were mostly male, generally had a 4-year college degree, and used sodium oxybate to manage symptoms within 1 to 5 years of receiving a narcolepsy diagnosis.

At the heart of the study was the data it relied on. The Nexus Narcolepsy Registry, an online database that tracks large numbers of people with narcolepsy, was launched in June 2015 and allowed patients to quantify the impact the disorder has on their lives from a multidimensional perspective that included treatment methods. For this study, participants of the registry underwent 2 biannual assessments that asked questions about their current medication use and their demographical information.

The study also showed that 92% of participants took 1 or more medications to manage their symptoms. According to the research, about 58% of participants were on stimulants, 45% on antidepressants, 41% on modafinil (also known by brand name Provigil) and armodafinil (also known by brand name Nuvigil), and 29.9% take sodium oxybate. Among the study’s participants, modafinil and armodafinil had the highest discontinuation rate (23.9%) and sodium oxybate had the lowest discontinuation (8.9%).

“We believe these data will help to continue to characterize narcolepsy’s impact on [a patient’s] quality of life, and our hope is that these data may ultimately help lead to better disease management and outcomes for patients,” says David Pasta, a co-author of the study and vice president of medical affairs statistical analysis at ICON Biostatistics & Programming, through an emailed statement.

As our understanding of narcolepsy medication continues to expand, Kristin Rogers, the head of global corporate communications for Jazz Pharmaceuticals noted in an email to Sleep Review that there are new medications in the pipeline that are positioned to be a viable option as well.

One in the early stages of development is a version of sodium oxybate that only needs to be taken once a night, as opposed to the current regimen of a second dose being taken in the middle of the night. In addition, Jazz Pharmaceuticals (the maker of Xyrem) also announced that JZP-110 presented positive efficacy results for narcolepsy patients struggling with obstructive sleep apnea as a comorbidity.

Yoona Ha is a freelance writer and digital strategist.