A simple urine test in children could detect sleep apnoea

Sunday 20th December 2009

Sleep apnoea is a sleep disorder that can go unnoticed for a considerable amount of time, as the sufferer is unaware of their behavioural patterns during the night. The disorder has also been linked to an increased chance of obesity and other health problems. However, researchers in Chicago think they could have found the answer to an early diagnosis of this condition.

It is thought that an estimated 3% of children younger than the age of 9 will have obstructive sleep apnoea. However, 12% of children generally snore which is one of the signs of obstructive sleep apnoea. Therefore, it is easy for children to be misdiagnosed or left untreated as detection of sleep apnoea normally entails an overnight stay in a sleep clinic. It is crucial the children who are suffering from the disorder are diagnosed quickly and efficiently, as sleep apnoea that goes undetected can results in behavioural problems, cardiovascular and metabolic problems. Children will generally suffer from fatigue due to the disturbances of their sleep.

Dr. Gozal of the University of Chicago was the leader of the team of researchers that conducted this latest test. They took 90 children who had been referred to a sleeping clinic for snoring (60 thought to be suffering from sleep apnoea, 30 from habitual snoring and 30 who did not suffer from sleep apnoea) and compared them. Dr. Gozal describes the results as “unexpected” but nevertheless very rewarding and promising in the attempt to cure the condition faster. The tests involved the use of electrophoresis of the children’s urine to compare the proteins within the two group’s urine samples. The results showed that as many as twelve proteins were different; with nine increased and three decreased in children with sleep apnoea compared to other two groups. Significantly, there was no difference in urine protein levels between the other two groups of children. The proteins that were affected in the children with sleep apnoea are ones normally associated with inflammation and kidney damage.

Whilst children who do have sleep apnoea will still need referring to a sleep clinic, the urine test will screen any of the children who are suffering from habitual snoring which is not necessary to test in a sleep clinic. Just four of the proteins can accurately test for sleep apnoea which could save doctors and patients alike a lot of time and inconvenience. The hope is to progress the test to a colour based one that could be conducted by general practitioners or even parents in their own home.

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