Having to deal with sleep apnea is already difficult, but if you combine it with another disorder, such as epilepsy, it can be much more dangerous because the seizures can be triggered by a lack of oxygen that happens when someone’s sleep is obstructed. To compound the problem, the Epilepsy Foundation has estimated that approximately 40% of people diagnosed with epilepsy have a higher disposition towards obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) than other people.
According to a study that was published in the journal Neurology Clinical Practice, epileptic patients have not been typically evaluated in previous years even though they run a higher risk of developing OSA. Fortunately, there is a new electronic screening tool that is being developed for neurologists so that they can help diagnose apnea in epileptic patients. The reason this is revolutionary is that it’s the first time a patient’s electronic health record will be a contributing factor in helping neurologists make this assessment. This early detection is vital because it means precautions can be taken to help those people who are suffering from both of these conditions simultaneously. Some of the benefits will include better seizure control, a decrease in the need for antiepileptic medications and a reduction of the onset of sudden, unforeseen death.
The researchers cultivated their findings based on data that examined 12 risk factors, and all of these considerations were attainable from the patient’s electronic health record. An alert was set to go off based on factors, and some of the risk factors that they looked at were: a person’s body mass index (greater than 30 was a flag); snoring, choking or gasping for air while asleep; repeatedly waking up during the night, and having morning headaches. Other morning data included whether the patients woke up with a dry mouth, sore throat or a tightening of the chest. In addition to all these factors, they also looked at the frequency of nighttime urination, whether the person’s neck circumference was larger than 17 inches, and whether the patient exhibited a reduction in memory and concentration, to name just a few. If the alerts showed that a patient showed at least two potential risk factors, they were referred to a clinic to have a sleep study. The idea behind this research was to hopefully diagnose epileptic patients who otherwise would have gone unnoticed as potential candidates for sleep apnea therapy.
The findings were very dramatic. For patients without an electronic alert, only 7% were referred for sleep studies and 56% of them were diagnosed with sleep apnea. Out of the 405 cases with an alert attached to their record, 33% were referred for sleep studies, and 87% of those who completed the study were diagnosed with sleep apnea.