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Multiple Sclerosis And Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Is There A Link?

Posted Feb 19 2009 6:21pm

I participate on a medical forum called Medhelp.or g, where I’m the sleep-breathing expert. I answer people’s questions on various topics related to sleep and breathing. Somehow, I stumbled onto the multiple sclerosis (MS) community and was surprised to see that many people have severe fatigue issues, cold hands and various sleep issues. Their symptoms sounded surprisingly like  upper airway resistance syndrome, which I’ve described before. So I decided to take a poll: I asked three questions: 1. How many MS patients have cold hands or feet? 2. How many MS patients have one or both parents that snore heavily, and if so, what kind of medical problems do they have? And 3. What’s your favorite sleep position (back, side, or stomach)?

The answers to this informal and unscientific poll was surprisingly lopsided. Out of 36 responses, 31 people said that they had either cold hands or feet. Many had to wear socks before going to bed, but some had to kick them off later. Fifteen out of sixteen stated that a parent (usually their father) snored heavily, and many also had major heart disease. Lastly, 26/30 responded that they prefer to sleep on their sides or stomachs. Many complained of intense fatigue.

This is the exact pattern that I see in patients with upper airway resistance syndrome, where they also have cold hands or feet, has a parent that snores, and wears mittens and socks to bed. Typically one or both parents snore, and have various degrees of heart disease. As many people with UARS slowly gain weight over the years, their cold hands may get better, but they’ll slowly develop into obstructive sleep apnea.

It’s a given that both UARS and MS will have a physiologic stress response, for different reasons. This can lead to various autonomic nervous system dysfunctions, such as cold hands or feet. It’s also known that chronic low-grade physiologic stress can stimulate the immune as well as the nervous system, heightening both these systems, leading to various pain issues or autoimmune conditions. I can’t say if there’s a definite cause and effect relationship between UARS and MS, but one thing for sure is that both have problems staying in deep sleep. The only definitive way to find out is is examine these MS patients with a flexible fiberoptic camera to examine the airway.

Am I going too far with my sleep-breathing hypothesis, or could I be onto something big?




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