April 26, 2004
Fatigue is the most common complaint of multiple sclerosis patients, and new research shows abnormal sleep cycles and sleep disorders may be to blame.
Researchers from the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vt., investigated whether circadian rhythm abnormalities or sleep disturbances exist in patients with MS and if they have an impact on fatigue and daytime sleepiness. They studied the sleep patterns of 15 patients with MS and fatigue, 15 patients with MS but no fatigue, and 15 healthy people without MS.
Ten of the fatigued MS patients had disrupted sleep, and two had irregular sleep cycles. One of the 15 non-fatigued MS patients had an irregular sleep phase, and two others had disrupted sleep. The rest of the participants, including all of those without MS, had normal sleep.
The study also shows nine patients with MS and fatigue scored high on a sleep scale test, indicting excessive daytime sleepiness. The researchers say only two patients with MS without fatigue scored as high on the test.
Up to 92 percent of MS patients say they are fatigued, and treatment is difficult. The study authors say certain sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome, periodic limb movement, and obstructive sleep apnea, are more common in patients with MS.
The researchers say now that they know MS patients are experiencing disrupted sleep, they can now start assessing the causes.
Nearly 400,000 Americans suffer from MS, a chronic neurological disease that affects the central nervous system. In MS, myelin -- the fatty tissue that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers -- is lost in multiple areas leaving a scar tissue called sclerosis. Symptoms are unpredictable and vary from person to person. Some of the more common ones include problems with memory, attention and problem-solving, dizziness, difficulty in walking, and pain.
SOURCE: Archives of Neurology, 2004;61:525-528
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