In a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, Matthew James and colleagues investigate the effects of continuous positive airway pressure or mandibular advancement devices on depression.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is associated with increased morbidity and mortality, and decreased quality of life. Treatment with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or mandibular advancement devices (MADs) is effective for many symptoms of OSA. However, it remains controversial whether treatment with CPAP or MAD also improves depressive symptoms.
Methods and Findings
We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials that examined the effect of CPAP or MADs on depressive symptoms in patients with OSA. We searched Medline, EMBASE, the Cochrane Central Registry of Controlled Trials, and PsycINFO from the inception of the databases until August 15, 2014, for relevant articles.
In a random effects meta-analysis of 19 identified trials, CPAP treatment resulted in an improvement in depressive symptoms compared to control, but with significant heterogeneity between trials (Q statistic, p<0.001; I2 = 71.3%, 95% CI: 54%, 82%). CPAP treatment resulted in significantly greater improvement in depressive symptoms in the two trials with a higher burden of depression at baseline (meta-regression, p<0.001). The pooled standardized mean difference (SMD) in depressive symptoms with CPAP treatment in these two trial populations with baseline depression was 2.004 (95% CI: 1.387, 2.621), compared to 0.197 (95% CI: 0.059, 0.334) for 15 trials of populations without depression at baseline. Pooled estimates of the treatment effect of CPAP were greater in parallel arm trials than in crossover trials (meta-regression, p = 0.076). Random effects meta-analysis of five trials of MADs showed a significant improvement in depressive symptoms with MADs versus controls: SMD = 0.214 (95% CI: 0.026, 0.401) without significant heterogeneity (I2 = 0%, 95% CI: 0%, 79%). Studies were limited by the use of depressive symptom scales that have not been validated specifically in people with OSA.
CPAP and MADs may be useful components of treatment of depressive symptoms in individuals with OSA and depression. The efficacy of CPAP and MADs compared to standard therapies for depression is unknown.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep-related breathing disorder that is particularly common among middle-aged and elderly people, although most are unaware that they have the condition. It is characterized by the occurrence of numerous brief (ten seconds or so) breathing interruptions during sleep. These “apneas” occur when relaxation of the upper airway muscles decreases airflow, which lowers the level of oxygen in the blood. Consequently, affected individuals are frequently aroused from deep sleep as they struggle to breathe. Symptoms of OSA include loud snoring and daytime sleepiness. Treatments include lifestyle changes such as losing weight (excess fat around the neck increases airway collapse) and smoking cessation. Mild to moderate OSA can also be treated using a mandibular advancement device (MAD), a “splint” that fits inside the mouth and pushes the jaw and tongue forward to increase the space at the back of the throat and reduce airway narrowing. For severe OSA, doctors recommend continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), in which a machine blows pressurized air into the airway through a facemask to keep it open.
Why Was This Study Done?
OSA is a serious condition that is associated with an increased risk of illness and death. Clinical depression (long-lasting, overwhelming feelings of sadness and hopelessness), for example, is common among people with OSA. The interaction between these frequently co-morbid (co-existing) conditions is complex. The sleep disruption and weight gain that are often associated with depression could cause or worsen OSA. Conversely, OSA could trigger depression by causing sleep disruption and by inducing cognitive changes (changes in thinking) by intermittently starving the brain of oxygen. If the latter scenario is correct, then treating OSA with CPAP or MADs might improve depressive symptoms. Several trials have investigated this possibility, but their results have been equivocal. Here, the researchers undertake a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials that have examined the effect of CPAP or MADs on depressive symptoms in patients with OSA to find out whether treating co-morbid OSA in patients with depression can help to treat depression. A randomized controlled trial compares the outcomes of individuals chosen to receive different interventions through the play of chance, a systematic review uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic, and meta-analysis uses statistical methods to combine the results of several studies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 22 trials that investigated the effects of CPAP or MAD treatment in patients with OSA and that measured depressive symptoms before and after treatment. Meta-analysis of the results of 19 trials that provided information about the effect of CPAP on depressive symptoms indicated that CPAP improved depressive symptoms compared to the control intervention (usually sham CPAP) but revealed considerable heterogeneity (variability) between trials. Notably, CPAP treatment resulted in a greater improvement in depressive symptoms in trials in which there was a high prevalence of depression at baseline than in trials in which there was a low prevalence of depression at baseline. Moreover, the magnitude of this improvement in depressive symptoms in trials with a high prevalence of depression at baseline was large enough to be clinically relevant. Meta-analysis of five trials that provided information about the effect of MADs on depressive symptoms indicated that MADs also improved depressive symptoms compared to the control intervention (sham MAD).
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that both CPAP and MAD treatment for OSA can result in modest improvements in depressive symptoms and that populations with high initial levels of depressive symptoms may reap the greatest benefits of CPAP treatment. These findings give no indication of the efficacy of CPAP and MADs compared to standard treatments for depression such as antidepressant medications. Moreover, their accuracy may be limited by methodological limitations within the trials included in the meta-analyses reported here. For example, the questionnaires used to measure depression in these trials were not validated for use in people with OSA. Further high-quality randomized controlled trials are therefore needed to confirm the findings of this systematic review and meta-analysis. For now, however, these findings suggest that the use of CPAP and MADs may help improve depressive symptoms among people with OSA.
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001762.
The US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has information (including several videos) about sleep apnea (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information and personal stories about obstructive sleep apnea and depression
The not-for-profit American Sleep Apnea Association provides detailed information about sleep apnea for patients and healthcare professionals, including personal stories about the condition
The US National Institute of Mental Health provides information on all aspects of depression (in English and Spanish)
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America provides information about sleep disorders
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia has a page on obstructive sleep apnea; MedlinePlus provides links to further information and advice about obstructive sleep apnea and about depression (in English and Spanish)