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Sleeping Disorders are often Undetected for MS Patients

Update Date: Sep 12, 2014 04:04 PM EDT

Sleeping problems contribute greatly to other health conditions. In a new study, researchers examined the link between sleeping disorders and patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. The team from the University of California, Davis discovered that undiagnosed and untreated sleeping disorders could be contributing to one of the most common symptoms of MS, fatigue.

For this study, the researchers sent out more than 11,000 10-page surveys to members of the Northern California Chapter of the National MS Society in 2011 and examined the data on 2,375 MS patients. 81 percent of the patients were women and 88 percent of them were Caucasian. The survey collected information on the patients' sleeping history, which included sleeping disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The survey also asked the participants about their daytime sleepiness and restless legs syndrome.

The researchers discovered that more than 70 percent of the patients were suffering from one or more sleeping disorders. Almost 38 percent of them had OSA, about 32 percent suffered from moderate to severe insomnia, and 25 percent had moderate insomnia. Roughly 52 percent of the patients stated that it took them more than a half hour to fall asleep and nearly 11 percent reported using medication in order to fall asleep. About 37 percent of the patients had restless legs syndrome.

"A large percentage of MS subjects in our study are sleep deprived and screened positive for one or more sleep disorders," said Steven Brass, associate clinical professor and director of the Neurology Sleep Clinical Program and co-medical director of the UC Davis Sleep Medicine Laboratory, reported in the press release"The vast majority of these sleep disorders are potentially undiagnosed and untreated. This work suggests that patients with MS may have sleep disorders requiring independent diagnosis and management."

The researchers reported that many of these patients were never diagnosed with a sleeping disorder, which meant that they remained untreated. Since sleeping disorders are detrimental for mental health, the team reasoned that these conditions could be contributing to or worsening fatigue, which is a common and disabling symptom of MS. The team stressed the importance of properly screening MS patients and adequately treating them.

The study, "The Underdiagnosis of Sleep Disorders in Patients with Multiple Sclerosis," was published online today in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

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