Optimal treatment of obstructive sleep apnea and excessive sleepiness

Russell Rosenberg, Paul Doghramji
Advances in Therapy 2009, 26 (3): 295-312

INTRODUCTION: Collapsibility of the upper airway in obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) causes repeated arousals from sleep, decreased oxygen saturation of the blood, and excessive sleepiness (ES). Patients with OSA are at increased risk of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease, and experience occupational and vehicular accidents more frequently than the general population. Furthermore, the life expectancy of patients with untreated OSA is significantly reduced.

METHODS: A MEDLINE search of articles published between 2003 and 2008 was conducted using the search terms: obstructive sleep apnea [ti/ab] AND treatment; obstructive sleep apnoea [ti/ab] AND treatment; and excessive sleepiness [ti/ab] AND treatment. Searches were limited to articles in English; clinical trials; meta-analyses; practice guidelines; randomized, controlled trials; and reviews.

RESULTS: Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the reference-standard treatment for patients with OSA. CPAP addresses the symptoms of OSA and reduces the risk of heart disease and depression associated with this sleep disorder. However, the efficacy of CPAP is contingent on patient adherence, and >or=4 hours of therapy per night are required for patients with OSA to experience significant clinical benefits. However, reports of nonadherence to CPAP therapy range from 29% to 83%. Other therapies are available for patients who refuse or cannot adhere to CPAP treatment, including dental devices and surgery, but these treatments are generally considered to be less efficacious. A significant number of patients continue to experience residual ES despite CPAP treatment. Pharmacologic therapies, eg, modafinil and armodafinil, may be of use in patients with OSA to improve tolerance with CPAP or to address residual ES.

CONCLUSION: There are a variety of treatments available for patients with OSA. Successful treatment involves encouraging patient compliance with CPAP or oral appliances. Primary-care physicians play a crucial role in recognizing this disorder and ensuring the best possible outcome through support and education.

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