If your child has been diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and is obese, there’s one more thing to look out for, according to recent research: she may experience a worsened NAFLD condition if obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is present.
OSA is a condition in which breathing during sleep is labored. In some cases, breathing may cease entirely for a number of seconds up to one minute. This may happen numerous times per night and leads to a variety of issues, including daytime sleepiness/grogginess, difficulty with memory and concentration and – according to this study – potentially worse NAFLD.
According to the University of Colorado School of Medicine researchers who conducted the study, an OSA condition was more likely to be tied in with a worsening of an already existing NAFLD condition in obese adolescents. (Healthy-weight children with NAFLD were not studied.)
It has long been suspected among researchers that NAFLD is tied into other issues, but the sleep apnea association is newer and warrants more study, scientists say.
Parameters of the Study
The small-scale study was only preliminary, but the link was obvious enough to raise flags and grab the notice of the scientific community.
The study took place 2009-2014 and involved 50 adolescent patients. Thirty-four were obese and had NAFLD. The remaining 16 were a healthy weight.
At the end of the study, subjects with OSA and hypoxia (lack of oxygen or reduced total oxygen during sleep) were found to have more scarring of the liver than the subjects who did not have OSA.
The researchers tentatively concluded that the reduced oxygen in the OSA patients led to oxidative stress that, over time, compromised the liver.
What is OSA?
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition characterized by snoring and, usually, periods of reduced oxygen during sleep.
OSA is usually diagnosed by a combination of symptoms and a sleep study under laboratory conditions.
Symptoms of OSA may include:
- Loud/deep snoring
- Periods at night (during sleep) when the subject appears to stop breathing – these periods may last several seconds to one minute
- Gasping/choking sounds during sleep
- Excessive daytime drowsiness
- Memory difficulties/concentration difficulties during the day
- Extreme irritability during the day
- Morning headache
- Sweating at night/sweating during sleep
If You Suspect Your Child Has OSA
If you believe your child may have sleep issues – especially if your child is overweight and has been diagnosed with NAFLD – take her to the doctor and request a sleep study.
A sleep study is a simple overnight procedure during which electrodes are painlessly attached to the body and the subject is monitored during sleep.
Various physical processes will be monitored on your child, including episodes of snoring, episodes of reduced oxygen, blood pressure and how her heart is performing during sleep.
If your child is diagnosed with OSA, she may be required to wear a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine at night so that she can receive adequate oxygen. This device fits over the child’s mouth and nose and delivers oxygen, making sleep more comfortable and productive.
Not every child with snoring issues is required to wear a CPAP. There are other ways of reducing snoring and controlling sleep problems. Ask your doctor.