Sleep Disorders May Go Undiagnosed in MS Patients

Multiple sclerosis patients reported high rates of sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and insomnia

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) One of the most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) is fatigue. And new research suggests fatigue may be common among MS patients because they have undiagnosed sleep disorders.

New research found that MS patients often had trouble sleeping due to restless leg syndrome, insomnia and sleep apnea.

Few patients who reported those sleep problems had been diagnosed with sleep disorders.

"Talk to a sleep specialist if you have trouble sleeping."

Steven Brass, MD, MPH, MBA, and colleagues set out to study how often MS patients had sleep disorders.

The study authors focused on restless leg syndrome, insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is marked by trouble breathing while sleeping.

MS is a central nervous system disease that disrupts communication between the brain and muscles. Symptoms include impaired vision and weakness and can progress to loss of body control.

Dr. Brass, co-medical director of the UC Davis Sleep Medicine Laboratory in Sacramento, and team asked 2,375 MS patients to answer questions about sleep problems.

"A large percentage of MS subjects in our study are sleep deprived and screened positive for one or more sleep disorders," Dr. Brass said in a press statement.

"The vast majority of these sleep disorders are potentially undiagnosed and untreated," he said. "This work suggests that patients with MS may have sleep disorders requiring independent diagnosis and management."

The authors found that 898 (37.8 percent) patients had sleep apnea, 746 (31.6 percent) had moderate or severe insomnia and 866 (36.8 percent) had restless leg syndrome. Only 4, 11 and 12 percent of these cases, respectively, had been diagnosed.

More than 60 percent of the patients noted a higher-than-normal level of fatigue. About 30 percent had excessive daytime fatigue.

"This is something that has been appreciated in prior studies, but not at this high rate," said Robert Rosenberg, DO, of The Sleep Disorders Centers of Prescott Valley and Flagstaff in Arizona.

"The problem is that both the physicians and patients frequently attribute these symptoms to the disease, not realizing that there is an underlying sleep disorder," said Dr. Rosenberg, who was not involved in this study.

"I hope that with this study pointing out the high rate of sleep disorders in multiple sclerosis, physicians will have a higher index of suspicion. As a result, a thorough sleep history should become routine in patients with multiple sclerosis," he said.

The study was published online Sept. 12 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

The National Institutes of Health funded the study. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
September 11, 2014
Last Updated:
September 17, 2014