Veterans with PTSD Should be Assessed for Sleep Apnea

One might not associate sleep apnea with soldiers returning from overseas. However there is a recent study that may have found a link between post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which the sufferer will stop and start breathing during the course of their sleep. While it is common, it can be very serious if it is not treated properly. Sleep apnea is traditionally linked with health issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. It seems like the link between sleep apnea and PTSD might be a complex one.

Vets Tested for PTSD and Apnea

The study that was conducted looked at 195 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. The sample for the study was taken from vets who had visited a clinic for an outpatient PTSD evaluation. Researchers were looking to see if there was a link between the two conditions.

Veterans who suffer from PTSD can have symptoms that include nightmares, negative and sudden changes in mood, high emotional reactions and intrusive memories. It seems that sleep apnea intensified these symptoms in the patients who were studied.

Upon initial examination of the patients, researchers found that 69 percent of them were already at risk for sleep apnea. They also found that as the PTSD symptoms were more severe, the risk for sleep apnea also increased. The type of sleep apnea that they were most at risk for was obstructive sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition where the airways will gradually close off causing breathing to stop. In order to clear the obstruction patients will wake up, but can go through long periods of little or no oxygen supply until this happens.

The team was able to conclude that patents who were seeing significant increases in PTSD symptoms were 40 percent more likely to also suffer from sleep apnea. The results of the study were published in the May issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

Treatment is Critical

While the actual link between the two conditions is still unclear, doctors feel that screening is critical for any returning veterans who may be suffering from PTSD. While the causes of the links are still in question, there can be an increase of symptoms from PTSD if sleep apnea goes untreated. Doctors in the study urged every vet to have a sleep study done to rule out being affected by sleep apnea.

Further research needs to be conducted to help to determine just what the link between PTSD and sleep apnea might be, but some of the theories that doctors have are:

  • Combat related sleep disturbances
  • Chronic stress from PTSD
  • Poor sleep from the above conditions
  • Poor sleep from sleep apnea

Treatment will ensure that sleep apnea is under control and will also help to prevent the other serious health issues that can go along with sleep apnea like depression, worsening PTSD and anxiety.

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