This is the case for epilepsy. Patients with epilepsy and sleep apnea tend to experience more serious and more common seizures. The good news is that treating sleep apnea can reverse this effect, helping to control seizures. But there is bad news, too. About 40% of all people with epilepsy also have sleep apnea. And, like most sleep apnea sufferers, they are mostly undiagnosed. More bad news: doctors, clinics, and hospitals are terrible at referring epilepsy patients for sleep apnea diagnosis.
But now we might have some good news. Researchers at Rutgers University have designed a screening tool that alerts doctors when their epilepsy patients should be referred for sleep apnea screening.
Automatically Flagging Risk Factors
Researchers at Rutgers University worked with those from the Department of Neurology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and the University of Rochester Medical Center to develop and test the screening tool. They started with a three-month look at the electronic health records (EHR) of patients that had been at the two epilepsy clinics before they introduced the screening tool.
The screening tool was developed to function inside patients’ EHR. It looks for 12 recognized sleep apnea risk factors, including:
- High BMI
- Choking or gasping while sleeping
- Unexplained awakening at night
- Morning headaches
- Dry mouth, sore throat, or chest pain on awakening
- Excessive nighttime urination
- Decreased memory or lack of focus
- High neck circumference
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Backward displacement of the jaw
- Short distance between the tongue and the roof of the mouth
If any patient had two or more of these risk factors, they were recommended to be referred for a sleep test.
Dramatic Increase in Referrals
The screening tool was a dramatic success in increasing referrals for sleep tests. In the three months before the tool was introduced, only 25 of 346 epilepsy patients were referred for a sleep test, about 7%. After the tool was introduced 134 of 405 screened patients were referred for a sleep test, about 33%.
Although this is still below the suspected incidence of sleep apnea in patients with epilepsy, it’s a lot closer. When more patients are tested and get successful treatment it also helps doctors to be aware of the positive impact that sleep apnea treatment can have, and hopefully they will be more likely to talk to patients about sleep apnea and refer them to sleep testing.
Diagnosis Is the First Step to Treatment
In order to get successful treatment for your sleep apnea, you must first get diagnosed. Unfortunately, that can be a hard challenge, with the lack of awareness about sleep apnea some doctors have.
We can help. If you suspect that you have sleep apnea, we can help you get tested so that you can get treatment.