Depression? It could be just sleep apnea

Sydney: Just having suicidal thoughts need not necessarily suggest that you are suffering from depression as researchers have found that such depressive symptoms are extremely common in people who have obstructive sleep apnea, (OSA), a common sleep disorder.

The researchers also found that these symptoms improve significantly when sleep apnea is treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy.

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"Effective treatment of obstructive sleep apnea resulted in substantial improvement in depressive symptoms, including suicidal ideation," said senior author David Hillman, clinical professor at the University of Western Australia.

"The findings highlight the potential for sleep apnea, a notoriously underdiagnosed condition, to be misdiagnosed as depression," Hillman noted.

Common sleep apnea symptoms include habitual snoring, witnessed breathing pauses, disrupted sleep, and excessive daytime sleepiness.

The study involved 426 patients referred to a hospital sleep center for evaluation of suspected sleep apnea. Participants had a mean age of 52 years.

Of all the patients, 293 were diagnosed with sleep apnea and prescribed CPAP therapy.

Results showed that nearly 73 percent of sleep apnea patients (213 of 293 patients) had clinically significant depressive symptoms at baseline, with a similar symptom prevalence between men and women.

These symptoms increased progressively and independently with sleep apnea severity.

However, clinically significant depressive symptoms remained in only four percent of the sleep apnea patients who adhered to the therapy for three months.

Of the 41 treatment adherent patients who initially reported feelings of self-harm or that they would be "better dead", none reported persisting suicidal thoughts at the three-month follow-up.

According to the authors, the results emphasise the importance of screening people with depressive symptoms for obstructive sleep apnea.

The findings appeared in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

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