Can Sleep Apnea Cause Autoimmune Disorders?

In my book Sleep, Interrupted, which was published in 2008, I commented on the association between sleep-related breathing disorders and autoimmune conditions.  This was based on a revelation I had after reading Dr. Robert Sapolski’s book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. He hypothesized that chronic stress due to any reason, can stimulate your immune and nervous systems to stay overly active all the time. Having breathing pauses 20 to 50 times every hour can be considered a chronic low-grade stress response.
In this month’s issue of the journal SLEEP, researchers from Taiwan looked at over 100,000 people with obstructive sleep apnea diagnoses from 2002 to 2011. The rates of various autoimmune disorders were found to be significantly higher in people with obstructive sleep apnea, compared to matched controls. Specifically, rheumatoid arthritis had 1.33 x, Sjogren’s disease 3.45 x, and Behçet’s disease 5.33 x higher rate of what’s called the hazzard ratio, compared to controls. A hazard ratio is a measure of how often a particular event happens in one group compared to how often it happens in another group, over time. Interestingly, people who were treated for sleep apnea had about a 50% lower rate of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions.
Like with all retrospective scientific research studies, association does not imply causation. So far, I am not aware of any published prospective studies looking at this issue.
I made another few predictions in my book: the potential link between obstructive sleep apnea and cancer and skin disorders such as psoriasis. I’ll expand on these topics in later posts.
Over the years, I’ve had numerous patients tell me that their rheumatoid arthritis got significantly better after starting CPAP. Do you have any autoimmune conditions that got better after treating for sleep apnea? Please tell us your story in the comments area below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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7 thoughts on “Can Sleep Apnea Cause Autoimmune Disorders?

  1. The following auto-antibody tests were notably positive for me: IgA-ttg, VGKC, GAD65, SSB. Not diagnosed but the only diagnosable suggestive disorder is benign fasciculation syndrome. Most of my health problems went away with CPAP so I haven’t felt the need to retest.

    The intra-cellular auto-antibodies may simply be a harmless measure of the amount of oxidative stress. I don’t know if I’d attribute the rest to OSA. I think false positive auto-antibody tests tend to come back positive in people with atopic disorders and those precede OSA development. I’d guess that OSA complicates an existing problem that might have been insignificant otherwise.

  2. I have psoriasis but have only been using cpap for around 8 weeks but I will closely monitor my condition & see if improves.


  4. I have UARS and Pleva, an auto-immune disease. I am not fully convinced yet that it has gotten better but I started my UARS therapy very recently

  5. I agree that correlation does not imply causation, but came up on your page because I wanted to see if there is a correlation! I have probably had both autoimmune issues and a sleep disorder from my teens, but my autoimmune issues kicked in around 2004 after my third pregnancy. my arthritis is defined as inflammatory arthritis because antibodies hover between being nearly with an RA factor and not–that is, close to diagnosis but not quite. I have colitis, 150 migraines a year, and a peanut sensitivity. Recent mild tachycardia and chronic cough led my neurologist to test for apnea and it is mild (5 per hour unmonitored) with indications of being moderate. I start CPAP next month.) I am an otherwise healthy 49-year-old female.

  6. Had a sleep apnea study in 2007 came back positive, cpap pressure was 9. I Got free non used cpaps from ppl i know or bought used ones that were sanitized. I never used humidification features until like Aug this year, never cleaned the last one, but i did replace hose and mask although probably not as much as i should have. The filter was the probably inadequate sponge foam which i washed out occasionally. Add to all this, my official testing from August, showed my required pressure was up to 14 while i had increased it only to 10.5… ppl next door in a vacation cabin could still hear me snore. I was using my large shop (antiques, no woodworking solvents, etc) in a large mill for a part time living space for about 1.5 years… i would bet there was mold film both the mill as well as some of the things i brought in. In fact, i know there was although it was way down back.

    Now, since about Aug 2018 (now dec 27, 2018), I’ve proper cpap gear. I clean it but still could probably do better. Has made a big difference in sleep and way less fatigue. But diagnosed with stage 1 neuro sarcoidosis and starting treatment today. I just don’t know if this was related to all the above and would resolve on its own but it’s rather treat it early than late.

    Sincere thoughts are welcome

  7. I was diagnosed with Lymphocytic colitis 15 years ago. I just started using a SomnoMed dental device for OSA and my LC is completely gone after 4 weeks of using the device. I sleep like a baby and have absolutely no pain. I’ve had fibromyalgia for 18 years (and I have no pain now) and was diagnosed with a serious case Lupus in early 2018, which has been in remission since June of this year thanks to doctor who recommended a plant based diet (in addition to the high dose Plaquenil).