Scientists explained that sleep apnea is often misdiagnosed as clinical depression by many clinicians. So, study authors recommend doctors to ask their depressed patients whether they experience sleep apnea symptoms while they are asleep.
These symptoms include, shortness of breath, shallow breathing, loud snoring, morning dizziness, daytime drowsiness, headaches, and sleep deprivation due to abnormal breathing. These symptoms are also linked to irritability and even depressive mood in most patients.
Sleep apnea is caused by a narrowing in patients’ airways while they are asleep. The most common method to treat the condition is a ‘breathing machine’ called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which maintains air pressure high enough to keep airways open.
Doctors say that sleep apnea needs to be treated because chronic deprivation of oxygen can lead to life-threatening conditions including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.
But the patient’s mood is often affected. While most sleep apnea patients are easily irritable, some of them are depressed and even have suicidal thoughts.
Dr. David R. Hillman, lead author of the study and researcher at the University of Western Australia, recently said in a press conference that patients who were treated with CPAP were less likely to be depressed or ponder about terminating their own lives.
Dr. Hilman underlined that sleep apnea is underdiagnosed, but when it does get a diagnosis it is taken for depression.
During their research, the team monitored 426 volunteers with a mean age of 52. These volunteers were diagnosed with sleep apnea or referred to a specialist to be diagnosed with the condition. Participants were also asked to assess their depressive symptoms on a standardized scale.
About 290 patients that had a full fledged diagnosis of sleep apnea were asked to use CPAP at night. A CPAP machine involves a small pump tied to a breathing mask through a tube. Patients are requested to keep the mask on their face while they sleep.
Study participants kept the masks on for at least five hours every night for a three-month period. After the period elapsed, just 4 percent of participants reported depressive symptoms when asked. About 40 patients who reported having suicidal thought before the experiment said that their symptoms completely vanished after three months.
A paper on the findings was published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
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