Sleep apnea treatment could save lives & money by reducing auto accidents, according to researchers

Each year, potentially 980 lives could be saved and $11.1 billion in automobile-accident costs could be avoided if drivers who suffer from a disorder called obstructive sleep apnea were successfully treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), according to a study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine.

Published in the May 2004 issue of the journal Sleep, the study determined the percentage of accidents related to sleep apnea and applied the success rate of treatment to conclude how many of these accidents could potentially have been prevented.

The research team noted that 1,400 fatalities each year are caused by sleep-deprived drivers with obstructive sleep apnea, a breathing disorder caused by intermittent blockage of the airway. The condition is a common problem affecting millions of Americans. During sleep, these individuals stop breathing for 10 to 30 seconds at a time, sometimes up to 400 times a night. As a result of poor quality sleep, persons with sleep apnea experience excessive daytime sleepiness which can lead to motor vehicle crashes.

The most common, effective treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is CPAP, where a patient wears a mask over the nose during sleep. Pressure from an air blower forces air through the nasal passages, preventing the throat from collapsing while the individual sleeps.

However, most people with obstructive sleep apnea don't realize they have the condition and don't get help.

In their study, the research team, which included investigators from the U.S. and Canada, analyzed medical research data from 1980 to 2003 to investigate the relationship between auto collisions and obstructive sleep apnea in untreated individuals. Additional data from the National Safety Council were used to estimate collisions related to obstructive sleep apnea, plus costs and fatalities, and their reduction with treatment. A final analysis included a

Contact: Sue Pondrom
University of California - San Diego

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