Spinal Cord Patients May Need Sleep Apnea Screening

People who have spinal cord injuries may also be at risk for sleep apnea, a common disorder that causes breathing to stop or become very shallow.

About three out of four people who have a spinal cord injury had symptomatic sleep-disordered breathing, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Researchers also found that 92 percent of the 26 patients in the study had poor sleep quality.

“The majority of spinal cord injury survivors have symptomatic sleep-disordered breathing and poor sleep that may be missed if not carefully assessed,” said lead author Dr. Abdulghani Sankari, physician scientist at John D. Dingell VA Medical Center and Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, in a news release. “Our findings help in identifying the mechanism of sleep-disordered breathing in spinal cord injury and may provide potential targets for new treatment.”

Researchers also found that the “nature of sleep-disordered breathing in patients with spinal cord injury is complex, with a high occurrence of both obstructive and central sleep apnea events,” the release states. Obstructive sleep apnea causes a person’s airway to collapse or become blocked while they’re asleep.

The occurrence of central sleep apnea, which requires special consideration in diagnosis and treatment, was more common in patients with a cervical injury than in those with a thoracic injury, according to the news release.

Breathing problems during sleep also may raise the risk of cardiovascular death for someone with a spinal cord injury, said Dr. M. Safwan Badr, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, who was involved in the study. “All spinal cord injury patients should undergo a comprehensive sleep evaluation using full, overnight polysomnography for the accurate diagnosis of sleep apnea.”

Roughly 200,000 people in the United States are living with a spinal cord injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The authors said their study is the first of its kind to assess sleep-disordered breathing and ventilation changes comparing two different levels of spinal cord injury – cervical compared to thoracic.

Source: news release from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine

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