Study finds missing link between mental health disorders and chronic diseases in Iraq war refugees

October 15, 2012

Wayne State University School of Medicine researchers may have discovered why people exposed to war are at increased risk to develop chronic problems like heart disease years later. And the culprit that links the two is surprising.

Beginning in the mid-2000s, WSU researchers interviewed a random sample of 145 who left Iraq before the 1991 Gulf War, and 205 who fled Iraq after the Gulf War began. All were residing in metropolitan Detroit at the time of the study. Study subjects were asked about socio-demographics, pre-migration trauma, how they rated their current health, physician-diagnosed and physician-treated obstructive , somatic disorders and psychosomatic disorders. Those who left Iraq after the war began and suffered from mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, and self-rated their physical health as worse than their actual health, were 43 times more likely than pre-Gulf War immigrants to report obstructive sleep apnea (30.2 percent versus 0.7 percent) and later develop major chronic health issues such as cardiovascular disease.

"I was surprised, but we had a specific theory we wanted to test. Changes in the stress system would contribute to sleep apnea. What happens? Maybe it's the stress that leads to this fractured sleep," said Bengt Arnetz, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., School of Medicine professor of occupational and environmental health, deputy director of the Institute of at Wayne State, and the study's principal investigator and first author. "No one had explored this possible link before, although basic research suggests it as plausible."

The results are featured in the October 2012 issue of , the peer-reviewed journal of the American Psychosomatic Society.

According to the article, "Obstructive Sleep Apnea, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, and Health in Immigrants," obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles supporting the at the back of the throat relax, but less is known about the reasons behind this neuromuscular malfunctioning.

"It's a known fact that the more exposure to violence you have, the more likely you are to report PTSD and depression, and the worse your self-rated health is, the more likely your actual health will suffer in five to 10 years," Arnetz said.

Hikmet Jamil, M.D., Ph.D., professor of occupational and in WSU's School of Medicine, and Thomas Templin, Ph.D., research professor in WSU's College of Nursing, also contributed to the article.

The obstructive sleep apnea and chronic disase link has been observed among many trauma-exposed populations, including refugees, Arnetz said.

"Iraqis were exposed to harsh conditions during the entirety of Saddam Hussein's more than 20 years of reign. However, trauma and environmental exposures increased measurably and dramatically after the initiation of the 1991 Gulf War," the article states.

The study can now be used as a model for other populations, including U.S. soldiers returning home from battle.

The multidisciplinary study brought together research, sleep research and chronic disease research, Arnetz said.

He and Jamil were partially supported by the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health (award number R01MH085793).

To further test their ideas, the researchers plan to apply for funding from the National Institutes of Health to collaborate with Safwan Badr, M.D., professor and chief of the School of Medicine's Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, and Thomas Roth, Ph.D., director of the Henry Ford Sleep Disorders and Research Center.

Explore further: CDC study forges link between depression and sleep apnea

Related Stories

CDC study forges link between depression and sleep apnea

March 30, 2012
Obstructive sleep apnea and other symptoms of OSA are associated with probable major depression, regardless of factors like weight, age, sex or race, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ...

Bariatric patients with obstructive sleep apnea fail to show symptoms

August 9, 2012
A Rhode Island Hospital researcher has found that the majority of bariatric surgery patients being treated for obesity have clinically significant obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), but report fewer symptoms than other sleep ...

Sleep apnea puts patients at risk for delirium after surgery

March 27, 2012
An anecdotal observation of a possible link between sleep apnea and post-surgical delirium has been measured and confirmed by a team of researchers at the Duke University Medical Center.

Study links obstructive sleep apnea to blood vessel abnormalities

July 11, 2011
Obstructive sleep apnea may cause changes in blood vessel function that reduces blood supply to the heart in people who are otherwise healthy, according to new research reported in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart ...

Can cannabinoid drug used for nausea in chemotherapy relieve sleep apnea?

June 21, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- No drug treatments exist to treat sleep apnea, a disorder that affects more than 18 million Americans. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing are working to change that. ...

Recommended for you

Schizophrenia drug development may be 'de-risked' with new research tool

November 22, 2017
Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) have identified biomarkers that can aid in the development of better treatments for schizophrenia.

Study finds infection and schizophrenia symptom link

November 22, 2017
If a mother's immune system is activated by infection during pregnancy, it could result in critical cognitive deficits linked to schizophrenia in her offspring, a University of Otago study has revealed.

Self-harm, suicide attempts climb among US girls, study says

November 21, 2017
Attempted suicides, drug overdoses, cutting and other types of self-injury have increased substantially in U.S. girls, a 15-year study of emergency room visits found.

Car, stroller, juice: Babies understand when words are related

November 20, 2017
The meaning behind infants' screeches, squeals and wails may frustrate and confound sleep-deprived new parents. But at an age when babies cannot yet speak to us in words, they are already avid students of language.

Simple EKG can determine whether patient has depression or bipolar disorder

November 20, 2017
A groundbreaking Loyola Medicine study suggests that a simple 15-minute electrocardiogram could help a physician determine whether a patient has major depression or bipolar disorder.

Non-fearful social withdrawal linked positively to creativity

November 20, 2017
Everyone needs an occasional break from the social ramble, though spending too much time alone can be unhealthy and there is growing evidence that the psychosocial effects of too much solitude can last a lifetime.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.