A new research study by Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul, Minnesota, suggests that children who suffer from cerebral palsy often don’t report sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), leaving the conditions untreated for long periods.
Funded by the Gillette Foundation, the study was published in the latest online edition of Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, titled “Obstructive sleep apnea in children with cerebral palsy and epilepsy.”
According to study lead author John Garcia, M.D., a sleep medicine specialist at Gillette, sleep disorders are underreported among patients with cerebral palsy. This is a problem, he said, because children who don’t receive proper treatment for a sleep disorder are more likely to suffer from seizures, contract respiratory illnesses, and see improvements in treatment.
“This is a vulnerable population to begin with, so the stakes are higher,” Garcia said in a press release. “Obstructive sleep disorders make life really tough for anybody, but even more so for kids who have CP.”
The study found that children who suffer from CP – especially when the disease is severe or combined with epilepsy – are more likely to suffer from OSA. In addition, children with CP are also more likely to be accurately diagnosed with a sleep disorder if they are routinely screened with a questionnaire, the study found.
Garcia and a Gillette team of experts crafted a questionnaire for patients to help identify sleep disorders. The team found that if more than one-third of the 20 questions on the questionnaire were answered positively, there was an increased risk of obstructive sleep apnea. The use of this simple, fast, and publicly available questionnaire had a significant role in helping researchers identify the risk for sleep disorders.
Once identified, physicians can take steps to correct it by considering upper airway surgery, or the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. After treatment, patients can see measurable improvements, including fewer seizures, better overall health, and increased mobility. Some research studies even suggest that children with cerebral palsy who receive effective treatment for sleep apnea can see an improvement in up to 20 percent in their overall health.
Garcia and his research colleagues recommend that all CP patients get screened for sleep disorders on a regular basis. “Anyone who has cerebral palsy should be screened for a sleep disorder — it should be standard practice,” Garcia said. “We can improve quality of life for our patients.”