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Insomnia + COPD linked to more outpatient, ED visits



Insomnia is “highly prevalent” in veterans with chronic pulmonary obstructive disease and is significantly associated with greater COPD-related health care utilization, according to an analysis of national Veterans Health Administration data.

“The study highlights the importance of exploring potential sleep disturbances and disorders in this population and suggests that a targeted treatment for insomnia may help to improve COPD outcomes in veterans with COPD and insomnia,” said Faith Luyster, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh, in an interview after the virtual annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, where she presented the findings.

Dr. Luyster and coinvestigators used an administrative database from the Veterans Affairs Corporate Data Warehouse to identify more than 1.5 million patients with COPD who used VHA services over a 6-year period (fiscal years 2011-2017). Insomnia was defined by ICD-9/10 diagnostic codes and/or a sedative-hypnotic prescription for at least 30 doses during any of these years.

Insomnia with COPD was prevalent in this sample of veterans at 37.3%. Compared with veterans without comorbid insomnia, those who had both COPD and insomnia (575,539 of the total 1,542,642) were older (69 vs. 64 years), more likely to be female (6.3% vs. 3.7%), more likely to be Black (14% vs. 11%) and more likely to be a current smoker (46.1% vs. 35.5%).

Those with both COPD and insomnia were also more likely to have a service-connected disability rating of 50% of greater; use supplemental oxygen; be divorced, widowed, or separated; have a higher body mass index; or have other medical or psychiatric conditions – in particular obstructive sleep apnea (39% vs. 7%), depression (21% vs. 5%), and PTSD (33% vs. 3%).

P values were < .001 for all of these demographic and clinical variables, Dr. Luyster reported at the meeting.

Comorbid insomnia clearly impacted health care utilization, she said. Veterans with insomnia in addition to COPD had more outpatient and ED visits (10.5 vs 6.9, and 1.6 vs. 1.4, respectively) and more hospitalizations (2.2 vs. 1.8) with a primary diagnostic code for COPD or COPD exacerbation (P < .001).

A negative binomial regression analysis (P < .001) showed that “even after controlling for demographic and other medical conditions, COPD patients with insomnia had greater rates of health care utilization relative to COPD patients without insomnia,” Dr. Luyster said in the interview.

Prior studies have suggested that disturbed sleep is a predictor of poorer longitudinal outcomes in COPD, even after controlling for COPD severity, but have not looked specifically at insomnia, she said.

Dr. Octavian C. Ioachimescu

Dr. Octavian C. Ioachimescu

Commenting on the study Octavian C. Ioachimescu, MD, PhD, of Emory University, Atlanta, and the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Decatur, said the criteria used to define insomnia – unadjudicated ICD diagnoses as well as sedative-hypnotic prescriptions – may explain part of the reported prevalence of insomnia. Even so, the findings add to existing literature demonstrating that COPD and insomnia are both common disorders among VHA patients, and that their frequent coexistence “could have adverse consequences on the overall health, functional status, long-term outcomes, and quality of life of these patients.”

Questions of causation are yet to be answered, he said. “Is it that uncontrolled or severe airflow obstruction causing frequent nocturnal arousals, dyspnea, orthopnea, overuse of inhaled sympathomimetics and heightened anxiety leads to insomnia? Or is it that insomnia – possibly in a cluster with other affective disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, or PTSD – elicits more frequent or more severe symptoms of shortness of breath in those with smoking-induced airway and parenchymal lung disease, making the latter diagnosis more overt than in others?

“My bet is on a bidirectional causal relationship,” said Dr. Ioachimescu, an editorial board advisor of CHEST Physician.

“Regardless of the etiology [of insomnia in veterans with COPD],” Dr. Luyster said, “it’s important that [insomnia] be addressed and treated appropriately, whether that be through pharmacological treatment, or probably more ideally through [cognitive behavioral therapy] for insomnia.”

The study did not control for COPD severity, she said, because of the difficulty of extracting this data from the VA Corporate Data Warehouse. The study was funded by the VA Competitive Career Development Fund.Dr. Luyster reported that she had no disclosures. Dr. Ioachimescu also said he had no relevant disclosures.

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