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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 June, 2003, 23:16 GMT 00:16 UK
Anti-depressant helps sleep disorder
Man sleeping
Sleep apnoea can make breathing stop for up to a minute
Scientists have discovered a drug which can help people with a potentially life-threatening sleep disorder - and which could even help heavy snorers.

Sleep apnoea causes a person to stop breathing for up to a minute when airflow from the nose and mouth to the lungs is restricted during sleep.

It can happen hundreds of times in a night.

Sleep apnoea affects around 1% of middle-aged men in the UK.

It is linked with an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and adult-onset diabetes.

It might be a useful treatment for some cases
Professor John Stradling, Oxford Centre for Respiratory Medicine
It can also be linked to behavioural problems and learning difficulties because people do not get enough rest.

Sleep apnoea can only currently be managed using often uncomfortable devices such as masks or nasal prongs.

But US researchers have found that an antidepressant called mirtazapine can significantly reduce the symptoms of sleep apnoea.

Mirtazapine blocks the activity of serotonin, a chemical in the nervous system that helps regulate mood, emotion, appetite and sleep.

UK experts say the drug could also help heavy snorers.

Monitoring

The US study of 12 people, aged between 20 and 70, was funded by NV Organon which markets the drug as Remeron as a treatment for depression.

All 12 were given one of two dosages of mirtazapine or a dummy pill an hour before they went to bed during three seven-day treatment periods.

They were then monitored throughout the night by sleep researchers.

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) team found using the drug halved the number of times breathing stopped or slowed during sleep.

It also reduced the number of times sleep was disrupted by 28%.

The study followed successful tests of Mirtazapine on rats.

Professor David Carley of the UIC Center for Sleep and Ventilatory Disorders, who led the study, said: "The drug provided the largest benefit and the most consistent improvement of any pharmaceutical therapy tested in controlled studies to date."

Snorers

Sleep apnoea expert Professor John Stradling of the Oxford Centre for Respiratory Medicine, told BBC News Online: "It might be a useful treatment for some cases, but considerably more work needs to be done.

"The current treatment is cumbersome and uncomfortable, but very effective.

"If the drug really worked, I would be surprised if it made a major difference."

Professor Stradling added: "If it could help obstructive sleep apnoea, it could help snoring too."

But he questioned whether snorers would want to take the medication.

The research was presented to the Associated Professional Sleep Societies meeting in Chicago.


SEE ALSO:
Cutting sleep disorder danger
18 Jan 02  |  Health
Sleep surgery 'unlikely to work'
04 Jan 01  |  Health


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