From the Journals

Which drug best reduces sleepiness in patients with OSA?



Solriamfetol (Sunosi), a norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor, is probably more effective than other wakefulness-promoting medications in patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) who have residual daytime sleepiness after conventional treatment, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis.

In a systematic review of 14 trials that included more than 3,000 patients, solriamfetol was associated with improvements of 3.85 points on the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS) score, compared with placebo.

“We found that solriamfetol is almost twice as effective as modafinil-armodafinil – the cheaper, older option – in improving the ESS score and much more effective at improving the Maintenance of Wakefulness Test (MWT),” study author Tyler Pitre, MD, an internal medicine physician at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ont., said in an interview.

The findings were published online in Annals of Internal Medicine.

High-certainty evidence

The analysis included 3,085 adults with excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) who were receiving or were eligible for conventional OSA treatment such as positive airway pressure. Participants were randomly assigned to either placebo or any EDS pharmacotherapy (armodafinil, modafinil, solriamfetol, or pitolisant). The primary outcomes of the analysis were change in ESS and MWT. Secondary outcomes were drug-related adverse events.

A man yawns ©Digitial Vision/

The trials had a median follow-up time of 4 weeks. The meta-analysis showed that solriamfetol improves ESS to a greater extent than placebo (high certainty), armodafinil-modafinil and pitolisant (moderate certainty). Compared with placebo, the mean difference in ESS scores for solriamfetol, armodafinil-modafinil, and pitolisant was –3.85, –2.25, and –2.78, respectively.

The analysis yielded high-certainty evidence that solriamfetol and armodafinil-modafinil improved MWT, compared with placebo. The former was “probably superior,” while pitolisant “may have little to no effect on MWT, compared with placebo,” write the authors. The standardized mean difference in MWT scores, compared with placebo, was 0.90 for solriamfetol and 0.41 for armodafinil-modafinil. “Solriamfetol is probably superior to armodafinil-modafinil in improving MWT (SMD, 0.49),” say the authors.

Compared with placebo, armodafinil-modafinil probably increases the risk for discontinuation due to adverse events (relative risk, 2.01), and solriamfetol may increase the risk for discontinuation (RR, 2.04), according to the authors. Pitolisant “may have little to no effect on drug discontinuations due to adverse events,” write the authors.

Although solriamfetol may have led to more discontinuations than armodafinil-modafinil, “we did not find convincing evidence of serious adverse events, albeit with very short-term follow-up,” they add.

The most common side effects for all interventions were headaches, insomnia, and anxiety. Headaches were most likely with armodafinil-modafinil (RR, 1.87), and insomnia was most likely with pitolisant (RR, 7.25).

“Although solriamfetol appears most effective, comorbid hypertension and costs may be barriers to its use,” say the researchers. “Furthermore, there are potentially effective candidate therapies such as methylphenidate, atomoxetine, or caffeine, which have not been examined in randomized clinical trials.”

Although EDS is reported in 40%-58% of patients with OSA and can persist in 6%-18% despite PAP therapy, most non-sleep specialists may not be aware of pharmacologic options, said Dr. Pitre. “I have not seen a study that looks at the prescribing habits of physicians for this condition, but I suspect that primary care physicians are not prescribing modafinil-armodafinil frequently for this and less so for solriamfetol,” he said. “I hope this paper builds awareness of this condition and also informs clinicians on the options available to patients, as well as common side effects to counsel them on before starting treatment.”

Dr. Pitre was surprised at the magnitude of solriamfetol’s superiority to modafinil-armodafinil but cautioned that solriamfetol has been shown to increase blood pressure in higher doses. It therefore must be prescribed carefully, “especially to a population of patients who often have comorbid hypertension,” he said.

Some limitations of the analysis were that all trials were conducted in high-income countries (most commonly the United States). Moreover, 77% of participants were White, and 71% were male.


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