Inflammation predicts a common sleep disorder


A new study demonstrates that increased inflammation from childhood to adolescence predicts sleep apnea in adolescence. The discovery not only extends our knowledge of sleep apnea but also points to new treatment strategies.

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder characterized by breathing pauses during sleep. Breathing pauses can lead to an inadequate supply of oxygen (or called hypoxia) and may trigger a loud snort or choking sound. The disorder affects the quality of sleep. As a consequence, the sufferers feel tired in daytime.

It is generally considered that inflammation is one of the symptoms of sleep apnea. Specifically, inflammation results from hypoxia during breathing pauses. But there is evidence that anti-inflammatory agents mitigate symptoms of sleep apnea. This indicates that the association between inflammation and sleep apnea warrants further research.

To address this issue, a team of researchers from Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine investigated 51 patients with sleep apnea, who were between 5 and 12 years old when the study started. The participants' sleep quality, physical condition, and fasting morning blood were examined both at the beginning of the study and 8 years after that. By comparing the data, the team discovered that for boys, increases in waist circumference were associated with increases in C-reactive protein (CRP), and increases in CRP were associated with higher follow-up sleep apnea index. Besides, boys developed more belly fat than girls during adolescence.

It is well established that the level of CRP rises when there is inflammation in the body, so increases in CRP serve as a sign of inflammation. Sleep apnea is much more common in men than in women. This difference is because men have more belly fat, which is a risk factor for sleep apnea and can increase inflammation.

The data of this study proves that increased inflammation due to the fat tissue may predict the development of sleep apnea. It also suggests weight loss as a potential way to mitigate the symptoms of the disease.

Jordan Gaines, first author of the study, concluded that their results indicated that inflammation resulting from belly fat precedes the development of sleep apnea. This differs from the traditional theory that inflammation is just a consequence of sleep apnea.

Alexandros Vgontzas, corresponding author of the study, noted that it may be possible to develop biological-based interventions to treat sleep apnea. Targeting inflammation may be an approach to managing the disease.

The study (Increased inflammation from childhood to adolescence predicts sleep apnea in boys: A preliminary study) is available online 18 April 2017 in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.
 
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