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Sleep apnea treatment alleviates depression symptoms

Researchers said the study shows that some depression patients may be misdiagnosed and have sleep apnea.

By Stephen Feller
Sleep apnea treatment alleviates depression symptoms
Depressive symptoms were alleviated in nearly all of the participants in the study who completed sleep apnea treatment as prescribed. Photo by Photographee.eu/Shutterstock

DARIEN, Ill., Sept. 22 (UPI) -- Depressive symptoms were alleviated in sleep apnea patients treated with continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, researchers found a new study.

Researchers said the study suggests depression patients be asked about experiencing sleep apnea symptoms during diagnosis and treatment.

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"Effective treatment of obstructive sleep apnea resulted in substantial improvement in depressive symptoms, including suicidal ideation," said Dr. David R. Hillman, a clinical professor at the University of Western Australia, in a press release. "The findings highlight the potential for sleep apnea, a notoriously underdiagnosed condition, to be misdiagnosed as depression."

The researchers recruited 426 participants, 243 men and 183 women with an average age of 52, who had been referred to a hospital sleep center to be evaluated for sleep apnea. The patients' levels of depressive symptoms were assessed using the Patient Health Questionnaire, or PHQ-9.

Of the participants, 293 were diagnosed with sleep apnea and prescribed CPAP, which uses mild air pressure, often delivered with a mask, to keep airways open while a person sleeps.

Patients were asked to use CPAP for at least five hours per night for three months. Just 4 percent of the patients who adhered to the treatment -- nine out of 228 -- reported still experiencing depressive symptoms. In addition, of the 41 patients who expressed feelings of self-harm, none of them reported feeling the same at the end of the three-month period.

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The study is published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

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