Sleep Apnea Test for People with Epilepsy

A tired man holds his hands over his face.

Sleep apnea is a serious condition for thousands of Americans. The disorder causes breaks in breathing while the sufferer is asleep. This results in a drop in oxygen levels which, in turn, leads to other health problems. Untreated sleep apnea can ultimately lead to death. Not only is the disorder bad for your health, but it also results in increased accident rates due to poor concentration and daytime drowsiness. However, the disorder can be treated effectively using various devices.

As researchers continue their dive into understanding the dangerous sleep disorder, they continually uncover more information. It turns out, that sleep apnea may actually play a part in causing or worsening other conditions. One of the conditions adversely affected by the sleeping disorder is epilepsy.

Detection and treatment of sleep apnea in epilepsy patients has the potential to greatly improve seizure control. Despite this, providers don’t typically test their epilepsy patients for sleep apnea. Thankfully, a new tool may make the process easier for everyone.

Researchers Develop Tool to Screen for Sleep Apnea in Epilepsy Patients

A study published in the journal Neurology Clinical Practice discusses a new tool created by Rutgers researchers. The tool’s design helps neurologists screen epilepsy patients for obstructive sleep apnea. This is very important to their overall health as seizures are often magnified by sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea.

The new tool is an electronic health record alert. It allows neurologists the ability to evaluate if their patient should undergo a sleep study to test for sleep apnea and other sleep disorders. News Medical reports:

This study can determine the necessity for treatment, which can result in improved seizure control, reduction in antiepileptic medications and reduce the risk of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy.

“Sleep disorders are common among people living with epilepsy and are underdiagnosed,” said lead author Martha A. Mulvey, a nurse practitioner at University Hospital’s department of neurosciences. “Sleep and epilepsy have a complex reciprocal relationship. Seizures can often be triggered by low oxygen levels that occur during OSA. Sleep deprivations and the interruption of sleep can therefore increase seizure frequency.”

The Epilepsy Foundation estimates that around forty percent of individuals living with epilepsy have a greater occurrence of OSA. The sleeping disorder contributes to poor seizure control. This new tool could change the lives of many of these people by treating their dangerous sleeping disorders. Not only will they find that they’ll receive a better night of sleep, but they’ll also discover that their health improves in a number of ways. Some patients, after begining treatment, actually see a reversal in corresponding systems and damage to the body and brain.

OSA Assessment for Individuals Living with Epilepsy

The assessment used to identify OSA consists of twelve different recognized risk factors, which are all embedded into the patient’s electronic health record. If they have two or more risk factors then their doctor will recomend they undergo a sleep study. These factors include:

  • Body Mass Index of 30kg/m2 or greater
  • Snoring
  • Choking or gasping during sleep
  • Unexplained nighttime awakenings
  • Morning headaches
  • Dry mouth, sore throat, or chest tightness upon awakening
  • Undue nighttime urination
  • Decreased memory and concentration
  • Neck circumference of 17 inches or greater
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Undersized or backward displacement of the jaw
  • And an assessment of the distance from the tongue base to the roof of the mouth

“It was found that placing this mandatory alert for providers to screen for OSA in the HER markedly increased the detection of at-risk epilepsy patients who should be referred for a sleep study,” said co-author Xue Ming, professor of neurology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “Such screening can lead to early detection and treatment, which will improve the quality of life of patients with epilepsy and OSA.”

Prior to this change in procedure, doctors only sent only about seven percent of epilepsy patients in for sleep studies. Of those, a little over half received a diagnosis for the sleeping disorder, OSA. After the change, the alert appeared in their EHR and patients underwent screening for OSA. One third had at least two risk factors. Of the patients who completed their sleep study, an astonishing eighty-seven percent had some level of sleep apnea. Epilepsy patients who begin OSA treatment see improvements with their sleeping as well as with the frequency of their seizures. Many of these patients would have gone otherwise untreated due to the difficulty of diagnosing the condition.

Treating OSA

The standard treatment for OSA involves CPAP therapy. With this method, the patient wears a machine with a hose and mask while sleeping. It produces a steady stream of gentle pressure to help keep the airway open. However, many patients don’t tolerate the treatment long term and have gone in search of other methods. Not only are the CPAP machines often bulky, but they can be loud as well. While this may not always bother the patient, it can occasionally result in difficulties sleeping for the spouse. The machines are also notoriously difficult to travel with. As a result, many patients often go without treatment. Thankfully, there’s a better treatment option.

Dr. Jeffrey W. Cross, a leading expert in dental sleep medicine, helps hundreds of sleep apnea patients using a specially designed oral appliance. Each appliance is custom fit to the wearer to ensure comfort and effectiveness. Not only are these appliances more comfortable than other treatment methods, but they’re very easy to use. These types of devices are only available through dental professionals trained in the treatment of sleep apnea.

Call Jeffrey W. Cross at (301) 662-0300 to learn more about sleep apnea treatment and how you can regain control of your life.

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