People with Fibromyalgia Should Be Tested for Sleep Apnea
Fibromyalgia is a difficult condition to manage. A poorly understood chronic pain condition, it can dramatically decrease a person’s quality of life. Despite ongoing research, there are few very promising treatments available.
However, one potential tool to help fibromyalgia patients is being neglected. Although we know that people with fibromyalgia often have sleep problems, it turns out that few people with the condition are actually being referred for sleep tests. This means that many people with fibromyalgia likely have undiagnosed sleep apnea, which can make their condition harder to bear. Simply diagnosing and treating their sleep apnea could significantly improve treatment outcomes, including quality of life, for these patients.
How Many Fibromyalgia Sufferers Have Sleep Apnea?
A new study shows just how commonly people with fibromyalgia also have sleep apnea. For this study, researchers reviewed the charts of over 400,000 people who got treatment at various clinics, including sleep, psychiatry, and rheumatology clinics.
They found that 17% of those who had been referred to a sleep clinic had fibromyalgia, and that 86% of those with fibromyalgia also had sleep apnea. This high percentage might not seem like a surprise because these were people who had been referred for a sleep study, likely because they had sleep apnea risk factors.
The diagnosed prevalence of sleep apnea among fibromyalgia sufferers was much less at other clinics. At the rheumatology clinic, for example, only 18.7% of people with fibromyalgia had sleep apnea, too. And in the population of fibromyalgia sufferers at the other clinics, the incidence of sleep apnea was just 3.6% of people with fibromyalgia. But these figures are deceptive, because 94% of patients at the rheumatology clinics and 96% of patients at the other outpatient clinics were untested for sleep apnea! In other words, with only 4% of people getting tested, 3.6% of fibromyalgia patients had sleep apnea. That starts to seem like most people with fibromyalgia actually do have sleep apnea–they’re just not being tested.
You Should Get a Sleep Test If You Have Fibromyalgia
Unfortunately, because this connection has not been widely recognized, we have little evidence about how treatment could help people with fibromyalgia. (A new clinical trial has started, but won’t be completed until late next year.) However, there are reasons to believe that it could be very helpful. First, about 60% of people with fibromyalgia have chronic fatigue syndrome. Even if many of these cases of CFS aren’t undiagnosed sleep apnea, undiagnosed sleep apnea undoubtedly makes them worse. Second, we know that sleep apnea treatment dramatically improves migraine symptoms. Even a fraction of that benefit for people with fibromyalgia would be a huge improvement.