From the Journals

AHA targets rising prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea in children



Obstructive sleep apnea is becoming more common in children and adolescents as the prevalence of obesity increases, but it may also be a preventable risk factor for cardiovascular disease, according to a new scientific statement from the American Heart Association.

Dr. Carissa M. Baker-Smith, director of pediatric preventive cardiology at Nemours Cardiac Center, Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del.

Dr. Carissa M. Baker-Smith

The statement focuses on the links between OSA and CVD risk factors in children and adolescents, and reviews diagnostic strategies and treatments. The writing committee reported that 1%-6% of children and adolescents have OSA, as do up to 60% of adolescents considered obese.

The statement was created by the AHA’s Atherosclerosis, Hypertension, and Obesity in the Young subcommittee of the Council on Cardiovascular Disease in the Young and was published online in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Carissa M. Baker-Smith, MD, chair of the writing group chair and director of pediatric preventive cardiology at Nemours Cardiac Center, Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Wilmington, Del., explained the rationale for issuing the statement at this time, noting that the relationship between OSA and CVD in adults is well documented.

“There has been less focus on the importance of recognizing and treating sleep apnea in youth,” she said in an interview. “Thus, we felt that it was vitally important to get the word out to parents and to providers that paying attention to the quality and duration of your child’s sleep is vitally important to a child’s long-term heart health. Risk factors for heart disease, when present in childhood, can persist into adulthood.”

Clarity on polysomnography

For making the diagnosis of OSA in children, the statement provides clarity on the use of polysomnography and the role of the apnea-hypopnea index, which is lower in children with OSA than in adults. “One controversy, or at least as I saw it, was whether or not polysomnography testing is always required to make the diagnosis of OSA and before proceeding with tonsil and adenoid removal among children for whom enlarged tonsils and adenoids are present,” Dr. Baker-Smith said. “Polysomnography testing is not always needed before an ear, nose, and throat surgeon may recommend surgery.”

The statement also noted that history and physical examination may not yield enough reliable information to distinguish OSA from snoring.

In areas where sleep laboratories that work with children aren’t available, alternative tests such as daytime nap polysomnography, nocturnal oximetry, and nocturnal video recording may be used – with a caveat. “These alternative tests have weaker positive and negative predictive values when compared with polysomnography,” the writing committee noted. Home sleep apnea tests aren’t recommended in children. Questionnaires “are useful as screening, but not as diagnostic tools.”

Pediatric patients being evaluated for OSA should also be screened for hypertension and metabolic syndrome, as well as central nervous system and behavioral disorders. Diagnosing OSA in children and adolescents requires “a high index of suspicion,” the committee wrote.

Pediatricians and pediatric cardiologists should exercise that high index of suspicion when receiving referrals for cardiac evaluations for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder medication, Dr. Baker-Smith said. “Take the time to ask about a child’s sleep – snoring, apnea, etc. – especially if the child has obesity, difficulty focusing during the day, and if there is evidence of systemic hypertension or other signs of metabolic syndrome,” she said.


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