Sleep Apnea and Schizophrenia: Waking Up to the Connection Between These DisordersSeptember 19, 2016 - Mental Health, Schizophrenia - 0 Comments
Sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on a person’s body, causing symptoms ranging from mood disorders to weight gain. Surprisingly, it can also cause people to see and hear things that aren’t present. New research spells out yet another concern connected with sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that leads to disturbed rest: schizophrenia. Researchers from the University of Adelaide at the Lyell McEwin Hospital have unveiled evidence that people with schizophrenia are 3.4 times more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than people without the mental health condition.
Although people have long concluded that there is a correlation between a lack of sleep and the symptoms of schizophrenia, this is the first study that shows a definitive link between schizophrenia and obstructive sleep apnea. After noticing that many patients with schizophrenia report sleep difficulties, researchers conducted home sleep studies on 32 people with the condition. Notably, many patients with this mental health disorder also suffer from other physical illnesses, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. The compilation of health problems leads to an average reduction in life expectancy of 17 to 20 years. Part of this is due to an increased risk of suicide.
What this new research doesn’t spell out, however, is what the best schizophrenia treatment options are. People with obstructive sleep apnea typically receive continuous positive airway pressure to alleviate symptoms. Such treatment can be tricky for people with certain mental health conditions, including schizophrenia. Now underway is the first study ever to determine whether those with schizophrenia will tolerate the air pressure used for treating sleep apnea. With six patients having successfully received this type of treatment so far, researchers are hopeful that it may be helpful.
So far the study shows that the six people with coexisting conditions benefit from the positive airway pressure by experiencing a restoration of brain activity, improved memory and physical health, as well as fewer symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. Additionally, participants have lost an average of 29 pounds after treatment.
That said, treating schizophrenia exclusively with continuous air pressure is not sufficient. It doesn’t address the myriad of other symptoms people experience. With complications usually appearing between ages 16 and 30, people with the mental health disorder often report hallucinations, delusions, difficulty concentrating, incoherent speech patterns, and unusual movements. Some people are excessively jumpy, repeating the same movements over and over; whereas others will sit sedentary for hours upon hours. Many of the internal struggles related to schizophrenia mimic those of depression, including withdrawal, a flat affect, difficulty with follow-through, and challenges meeting the demands of daily life.
Approximately eight people in 1,000 will experience schizophrenia in their lifetime. It is a severe and chronic condition with no known cure. More males have the condition than females, and often exhibit symptoms of the disease at an earlier age. A pattern of behaviors can predict the onset of schizophrenia in about 80 percent of adolescents who are at risk of the condition. Prior to the full psychosis stage, people experience a pre-psychotic stage of the disorder referred to as the “prodromal” period.
Though some causes of schizophrenia are partially understood, not enough is known to effectively cure the disease. Consequently, schizophrenia treatment consists of lessening the symptoms associated with the condition. This often entails antipsychotic medications. So far, promising results have emerged from a coordinated care team, generally consisting of the patient, a case manager, a medication and psychosocial treatment team working together. Such a method is employed in some schizophrenia treatment centers, offering hope for people with the disorder. Treatment centers can be especially effective if they help patients deal with the common challenges present in everyday life, such as attending school or work, maintaining appropriate hygiene, and gaining coping skills to contend with obstacles.
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