A Pill for Sleep Apnea?

A medication used to treat depression may help those with sleep apnea get a better night's rest. A small research trial conducted with the drug mirtazapine showed promising results for the common sleep disorder. It is the most effective chemical treatment found so far for the condition.

The patients who took mirtazapine slept significantly better than those in the control group, according to researchers. The number of times breathing slowed or stopped was cut in half on average. And the number of sleep disturbances decreased by 28 percent. Overall, the 12 participants showed improvement in sleeping patterns. Mirtazapine works by regulating the neurotransmitter serotonin, a chemical that is known to affect mood, appetite and sleep.

The study was sponsored by NV Oranon, which sells mirtazapine under the name Remeron. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved mirtazapine for sleep apnea, which would require larger studies.

About 18 million people have sleep apnea, according to the National Institutes of Health. It occurs when the throat and tongue muscles relax and block the airway while a person is sleeping, sometimes waking the person hundreds of times throughout the night. Without treatment, those with the condition are at greater risk for high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Established treatments for sleep apnea include facial surgery or a pressurized nasal mask.

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