Journal published by the Hellenic
Psychiatric Association

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Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS) is characterized by repeated episodes of upper airway obstruction during sleep, which leads to the presence of excessive daytime drowsiness. Regarding the psychological comorbidity in patients diagnosed with OSAS, previous studies focused mainly on depressive and secondarily on anxiety symptoms. Due to the lack of research data regarding the prevalence of anxiety and depressive symptoms as well as of alexithymic characteristics in patients with OSAS in Greece, the aim of the study was to record the above symptomatology in a sample of Greek OSAS patients and to investigate its relation to the respiratory parameter (Apnea-Hypopnea Index, AHI) of polysomnography. The study was conducted in a certified sleep laboratory. Thirty five randomly selected patients who attended the laboratory with symptoms of daytime drowsiness, fatigue, disrupted sleep and snoring, were examined for anxiety, depression and alexithymia using the Spielberger Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) and the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20), respectively, 24 hours prior to being submitted to polysomnography. All 35 patients met the inclusion criteria of the study (age≤75 years, no other chronic diseases and no history of major psychiatric disorders). Six patients did not meet the diagnostic criteria for OSAS and were thus used as the control group of the study. A high prevalence of anxiety (41.4%) and depressive (55.2%) symptoms and of alexithymic characteristics (41.4%) was observed in OSAS patients. Although the control group showed a higher prevalence of anxiety (66.7%) and depressive (83.3%) symptoms, there were no differences between the two groups (STAI: t=–0.927, p=0.360, BDI: t=–1.537, p=0.134, TAS–20: t=0.196, p=0.846). With regard to severity, no differences were observed between control, mild, moderate and severe OSAS subgroups (STAI: F=0.583, p=0.660, BDI: F=0.829, p=0.488, TAS–20: F=0.987, p=0.412). Females scored higher on the BDI and on the STAI compared to males (STAI: t=–2.38, p=0.039, BDI: t=–3.59, p=0.01). Finally, no correlation was observed between psychometric scores and AHI (Pearson correlation p>0.05). The study confirms the high prevalence of anxiety and depressive symptoms which has been found in previous studies. Furthermore, we found a high prevalence of alexithymic characteristics, a factor that has not been investigated previously and which is positively correlated with anxiety symptoms. The coexistence of alexithymic characteristics may further complicate the clinical manifestations of OSAS due to the fact that patients with alexithymia typically have difficulty in indentifying and describing their underlying psychological symptomatology and, moreover, tend to exhibit more, and often atypical, physical symptoms. In conclusion, the study supports the presence of a high degree of psychological burden in patients diagnosed with OSAS, regardless of the severity of their symptoms, as determined by the AHI. This comorbidity should be taken into consideration during the clinical assessment of OSAS and for the treatment planning.

Key words: Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, anxiety, depression, alexithymia.

D. Bratis, A. Tselebis, G. Zafeiropoulos, A. Tsaraklis, S. Dumitru, G. Moussas, E. Kosmas, M. Koutsilieris (page 95) - Full article (Greek)