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Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) can improve symptoms of depression in patients suffering from cardiovascular diseases, new research has revealed.

Using data from the Sleep Apnoea Cardiovascular Endpoints (SAVE) trial led by Flinders University, the study, published by The Lancet in EClinicalMedicine, uncovered a significant decrease in cases of depression after patients received CPAP treatment for sleep apnoea.

SAVE trial participants were recruited from more than 80 clinical centres in China, Australia, New Zealand, India, the USA, Spain and Brazil and were mostly overweight older males, habitual snorers and had moderately severe OSA.

Researchers found CPAP for moderate to severe OSA in patients with CV disease has broader benefits in terms of preventing depression, independent of sleepiness.

“Patients who have had a stroke or heart attack are prone to suffer from low mood and are two to three times more likely to develop clinical depression, which then further elevates their risk of future heart attacks and strokes,” SAVE principal investigator Professor Doug McEvoy said.

With up to 50% of patients with CV disease likely to have OSA, the study’s findings offer positive news that treatment of OSA substantially relieves cardiovascular patients’ depressive symptoms and improves their wellbeing.

The paper’s lead author, Dr Danni Zheng from the George Institute for Global Health (UNSW), said the 2,687 OSA patients enrolled in the SAVE trial were based solely on their history of cardiovascular disease and not on current mood status.

“After following them for an average of 3.7 years, we found those treated with CPAP benefited from significant reductions in depression symptoms compared with those who were not treated for OSA. The improvement for depression was apparent within six months and was sustained, Dr Zheng said.

The study found people with lower mood scores to begin with experienced the greatest benefit.

“Our additional systematic review which combined the SAVE study findings with previous work provided further support of the treatment effect of CPAP for depression.”