Healthy Living

The Surprising Connection Between Multiple Sclerosis and Sleep Apnea

The Surprising Connection Between Multiple Sclerosis and Sleep Apnea

Sleep disturbances have been shown to be the biggest cause of exhaustion in people with MS. Recently, a study has shown that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is fairly common in people with MS. Since OSA results in poor sleep, the study also suggests that OSA may be one of the largest contributors to the extreme fatigue that affects the lives of people with MS.

What is OSA?

OSA is a mechanical breathing problem that leads to obstruction of the airway when a person is sleeping due to the tissue of the upper airway collapsing. OSA is not something to be taken lightly. While it can on a less severe note lead to sleep problems, the other potential consequences include oxidative stress on the heart, glucose intolerance, and drug-resistant hypertension. OSA is more common than we believe and can happen to anyone regardless of age and gender, or physical health and size.

What did the findings show?

Through a survey, researchers found that 1 out of 5 patients with MS have OSA. More than half of the people surveyed were at increased risk of developing OSA based on their screenings. Dr. Tiffany J. Braley, who is an assistant professor of Neurology at the University of Michigan Multiple Sclerosis and Sleep Disorders Center said that, “OSA may be a highly prevalent and yet under-recognized contributor to fatigue in persons with MS. Our study suggests that clinicians should have a low threshold to evaluate MS patients for underlying sleep disturbances.”

OSA can be a bit difficult to diagnose in patients with MS since fatigue is already such a common symptom. This can result in both patients and providers not looking into potential other causes of exhaustion. Since OSA can often be effectively treated with medications and a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, it is important that medical professionals do not overlook evaluating patients for OSA. American Academy of Sleep Medicine President M. Safwan Badr said that, “Obstructive sleep apnea is a chronic illness that can have a destructive impact on your health and quality of life. People with multiple sclerosis who are found to have a high risk of OSA should be referred to a board-certified sleep medicine physician for a comprehensive sleep evaluation.”

Central Sleep Apnea

There is also another type of apnea that people should be looking out for. Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) is similar to OSA but it causes longer pauses in breathing. The consequences of these two types of apnea are the same. The difference between OSA and CSA is that CSA is caused by the central nervous system not sending the signals that it should be to the muscles that control breathing while you sleep. This is a part of the system in your body that keeps organs working while you sleep. It is known as the autonomic nervous system. This system is why we do not have to think about breathing or making our heart beat; it just happens. When we are asleep, and this system fails, we are not able to immediately correct it like we do if something “catches our breath” when we’re awake.

Read on to learn more about sleep apnea and its connections with multiple sclerosis.