The underlying cause of fatigue experienced by multiple sclerosis (MS) patients may be undiagnosed sleep disorders, according to a study conducted at the Department of Neurology of the University of California. Not only is that a problem in itself, but also an undiagnosed and untreated sleeping disorder may exacerbate the disease and affect patients’ well being.
“Sleep disorder frequency, sleep patterns and complaints of excessive daytime sleepiness suggest that sleep problems may be a hidden epidemic in the MS population, separate from MS fatigue,” explained Steven Brass, associate clinical professor and director of the Neurology Sleep Clinical Program and co-medical director of the UC Davis Sleep Medicine Laboratory in a university news release.
In order to understand the prevalence of restless legs syndrome, insomnia, and the risk of obstructive sleep apnea in multiple sclerosis patients, the scientists examined sleep patterns and associations with fatigue and daytime sleepiness on 11,400 patients from the Northern California Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society Database, on a cross-sectional study using a written survey.
“A large percentage of MS subjects in our study are sleep deprived and screened positive for one or more sleep disorders. 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,” said Brass, who also explained that greater attention to sleep problems in this population is warranted, especially in view of fatigue being the most common and disabling symptom of MS.
The scientists concluded that more than 70 percent of the patients registered at least one sleep disorder. Among the completed surveys, 37.8% of the patients suffered obstructive sleep apnea, 31.6% moderate to severe insomnia, and 36.8% restless legs syndrome. The findings are bound to help doctors better manage symptoms of fatigue in MS patients in the future.