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What is fatal familial insomnia (FFI)?

What we know about this disease is:

• The disease is based on a protein abnormality, when a protein called a prion attacks the thalamus.

• It’s genetically inherited and passed down through generations.

• The first sign of FFI is sleeplessness, followed by continued insomnia with hallucinations and panic attacks, progressing to total insomnia and weight loss, which then progresses until the victim is so sleep deprived that his or her systems shut down until death occurs.

• In one particular case, a man developed the disease in his fifties after having slept pretty well throughout his life, which is common for this disease. Then his troubles with sleep snowballed to the point where his body wouldn’t let him rest. He died within months.

Stories like this remind us that sleep remains a mystery still waiting to be fully understood. But the average person doesn’t carry the gene for FFI and will have a hard time (impossible, really) sleep depriving him or herself to death.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.