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This article was published in June 2013. The information may be out of date. Please check our epilepsy information or our site A-Z.

Epilepsy and obstructive sleep apnoea linked

20 Jun 2013

Night skyA new study has shown that people with epilepsy are at a higher risk of having problems breathing while they are asleep. While it seems the problem is widespread, it is simple to treat

An Australian study at Royal Melbourne Hospital has found a link between epilepsy and obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). OSA is a type of ‘sleep-disordered breathing’. It is when a person has problems breathing while they are asleep, caused by obstruction (blockage) of the airway.

Previous research has suggested that people with epilepsy have a higher risk of sleep-disordered breathing than other people. Some people also experience weight-gain as a side-effect of epilepsy medication – which can also increase this risk.

Asian woman sleepingProf Terry O’Brian and his team recruited 87 people with epilepsy and monitored their sleep patterns. In the general population, between three and seven per cent of people experience sleep-disordered breathing. Of the 87 people with epilepsy studied, 22 per cent (almost a quarter) had trouble breathing that was severe enough to need treatment.

Fortunately, treating OSA is relatively simple. The people experiencing OSA were given a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device to wear during sleep. The device maintains a steady pressure that prevents disordered breathing.

Prof O’Brian said in a press release: “It is important to diagnose [OSA] in patients with epilepsy, as treatment with CPAP can improve sleep quality and seizures, and associated problems like day time drowsiness, difficulty concentrating and cardiovascular disease, often without the requirement of medication.”

The full study findings were published in an online edition of Epilepsy Research on 27 March.

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