Treatment for Sleep Apnea May Ease Depression

Symptoms of Depression Often Overlap With Obstructive Sleep Apnea; CPAP May Help

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 12, 2005 -- People with obstructive sleep apnea often show signs of depression, and treatment that prevents snoring and breathing disruptions may help, new research shows.

According to the national sleep foundation, obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder in which breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep. It occurs because muscles in the throat are not able to keep the airway open.

The treatment called CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) is a device that helps people with obstructive sleep apnea breathe more easily during sleep.

At a Florida sleep center, 50 patients were recently asked to use CPAP for four to six weeks. The patients' depression symptoms improved during that time, according to a study in Chest.

The researchers' recommendations:

CPAP treatment may help symptoms of depression in some obstructive sleep apnea patients, write Daniel Schwartz, MD, and colleagues. They work at The Sleep Center at University Community Hospital in Tampa, Fla.

Shared Symptoms

Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and depression often overlap, note the researchers.

They list these symptoms that often appear with both conditions:

  • Feeling tired, sleepy, fatigued, and poorly motivated.
  • Becoming withdrawn or irritable.
  • Having problems concentrating or remembering facts.
  • Losing pleasure in daily life.

The researchers aren't sure why that is. Some cases might be misdiagnosed, or the conditions may often go together, write Schwartz and colleagues.

CPAP Study

Schwartz's study included 50 patients. Nineteen people had been receiving antidepressants for at least two months when the study started.

First, the patients took a depression survey. Then, they were asked to use CPAP for four to six weeks. They took the survey again when the study ended.

Depression scores dropped significantly, write the researchers.

"We believe that these data strongly support the fact that for some individuals with obstructive sleep apnea, symptoms of depression may well be their presenting complaint," they write.

Screening, Treatment

Patients suspected of obstructive sleep apnea should be screened for depression and vice versa, they suggest.

"We conclude that individuals with obstructive sleep apneas may manifest symptoms of depression, and for at least some of these individuals, the symptoms of depression may be ameliorated by treatment with CPAP," the researchers write.

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SOURCES: Schwartz, D. Chest, September 2005; vol 128: pp 1304-1309. News release, American College of Chest Physicians.
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