Posted May 30, 2015

FRIDAY, May 29, 2015 (HealthDay News) — For U.S. veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the risk of sleep apnea increases along with the severity of the mental health condition, a new study contends.

Sleep apnea — a common sleep disorder in which breathing frequently stops and starts — is potentially serious.

Researchers looked at 195 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who visited a Veterans Affairs outpatient PTSD clinic for evaluation. About 69 percent were at high risk for obstructive sleep apnea, and the risk rose along with PTSD symptom severity, the study authors said.

PTSD symptoms can include intrusive memories and nightmares, negative changes in mood and heightened emotional reactivity.

Every clinically significant increase in PTSD symptom severity was associated with a 40 percent increase in being at high risk for sleep apnea, according to the study published in the May issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

“The implication is that veterans who come to PTSD treatment, even younger veterans, should be screened for obstructive sleep apnea so that they have the opportunity to be diagnosed and treated,” co-principal investigator Sonya Norman, a researcher at the San Diego VA, said in a news release from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

“This is critical information because sleep apnea is a risk factor for a long list of health problems such as hypertension [high blood pressure], cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and psychological problems including depression, worsening PTSD and anxiety,” she explained.

The link between sleep apnea and PTSD in veterans is not clear. Possible factors that may connect the two disorders include combat-related sleep disturbances, chronic stress from PTSD, and poor sleep caused by sleep apnea, the researchers suggested.

Further research is needed to learn more about the link between sleep apnea and PTSD, the study authors said.

— Robert Preidt

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