- NEW YORK (Reuters
Health) - Most patients with cluster headaches--attacks of stabbing head
pain that often occur at night--also have sleep apnea, a condition in which
breathing is temporarily interrupted during sleep.
- ``Around 80% of people with sleep apnea don't know they
have it, so it's very likely that people with cluster headaches who have
similar breathing disorders won't know it,'' Dr. Ronald D. Chervin, of
the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, told Reuters Health.
- Because some sleep apnea patients experience a worsening
of cluster headaches, Chervin and his colleagues performed formal sleep
studies on 25 men and women with cluster headaches to determine whether
they had breathing problems during sleep.
- The researchers found that 80% of the headache patients
also had sleep apnea, which was defined as having five or more apnea episodes
per hour of sleep, according to a report in the June 27th issue of Neurology.
Forty-four percent of patients had 10 or more apnea episodes per hour.
During such episodes, the upper airway collapses and temporarily halts
breathing, causing the sleeper to snort and gasp for breath.
- In the study, sleep disordered breathing was especially
severe in 10 patients, whose blood levels of oxygen dropped below 90% during
sleep, the investigators note. Low oxygen levels were most commonly associated
with the occurrence of cluster headaches during the first half of the night,
the results indicate.
- ``Sleep disordered breathing occurred in the majority
of patients with cluster headache,'' the authors write. ``Although sleep
disordered breathing was common in our sample, no subjects had received
this diagnosis before they enrolled in this study,'' they add.
- ``Patients and their physicians need to recognize this
association between cluster headaches and sleep disordered breathing,''
Chervin said. ``Those whose cluster headaches awaken them from sleep or
whose cluster headaches are present when they wake up should talk with
their doctor about the possibility of undiagnosed sleep apnea,'' advised
- ``Though our study was not designed to test the effectiveness
of treating sleep apnea, published cases suggest that most patients whose
sleep apnea is treated will experience significant relief of their cluster
headaches,'' Chervin said.
- Sleep apnea can be treated by wearing a face mask at
night that delivers a stream of air through the nose, which keeps the airway
open during sleep.
- SOURCE: Neurology 2000;54:2302-2306.
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