Obstructive sleep apnea has been associated with edema, leg swelling caused by an accumulation of fluid. The most common cause of edema is chronic venous insufficiency, a condition where blood has difficulty traveling from the legs to the heart. The blood has a tendency to pool in one area, which can result in blood clots.
Patients with this condition often experience ankle swelling, tightness in the calves, pain when walking and a feeling of heaviness in their legs. Like OSA, being overweight or obese is a risk factor for chronic venous insufficiency. Other risk factors include sitting or standing for prolonged periods, smoking, lack of exercise and a family history of varicose veins. The condition is mostly seen in women over the age of 50.
Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by an obstruction of the airways. Airways may become blocked by the relaxing of the tongue and throat tissue. They may also become blocked by a build-up of fluid around the neck.
Patients with chronic venous insufficiency experience fluid accumulation in the legs during the day. At night, this fluid travels up the legs to the neck and increases neck size. A large neck size is a known risk factor for OSA. Research has found that a neck circumference of more than 17 inches for males and 16 inches for women can cause airways to narrow, making breathing difficult.
A recent study conducted by Dr. Stefania Redolfi of the University of Brescia, Italy, sought to explore the effectiveness of compression stockings on sleep apnea. Compression stockings gently squeeze the veins and prevent blood from flowing backward. They are worn to treat chronic venous insufficiency and other venous conditions.
Dr. Redolfi theorized the socks would prevent fluid accumulation in the legs during the day and in the neck at night. In their study, Dr. Redolfi and her colleagues recruited twelve individuals from a chronic venous insufficiency clinic in Paris. The volunteers were randomly assigned a week of wearing compression socks or not wearing compression socks.
Researchers observed the volunteers during sleep and recorded overnight changes in leg fluid volume and neck circumference. Researchers found the subjects who wore the compression stockings had an average of a 62% reduction in fluid volume as compared to when they didn’t wear socks. The subjects also had a 60% reduction in neck circumference increase. Based on these findings, researchers calculated a 36% reduction in sleep apnea episodes.
Though the research sample was small, the results are hopeful. Other studies on the effectiveness of compression stockings on OSA have found similar results. A study published in the Journal of the World Association of Sleep Medicine by Dr. Laura White reported a reduction in apnea episodes in 23 patients wearing compression stockings.
While not a cure for OSA, if you or a loved one suffers from OSA, compression stockings may be an inexpensive, simple treatment option to explore. Compression stockings cannot replace the effectiveness of CPAP treatment and oral appliance therapy, but when used with other treatments, they may help.
If you’ve been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea but are still struggling to find a treatment plan that fits your lifestyle, we can help!
At Simple Sleep Services, we can evaluate and recommend the most effective and comfortable treatment options, including oral appliance therapy which is usually covered by most private insurance plans and Medicare / Medicaid.
Call 469-685-1700 or submit an online inquiry.
Image attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sarahbaker/