There is a controversy regarding the association of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and morning headaches. This study investigates whether this relationship exists.
This is a retrospective study of 80 consecutive patients with OSA who underwent sleep polysomnography from December 1996 to March 1997. Patients were interviewed about their headache history. Headaches were classified according to International Headache Society criteria and the severity graded by the Chronic Pain Index. Headache characteristics were compared with those of 22 control patients with periodic limb movement disorder. Headache response to continuous positive airway pressure or uvulopalatopharyngoplasty in the patients with OSA was also assessed.
Forty-eight (60%) patients had headaches in the year prior to study. Twenty-five of the 48 patients had headaches that did not fit any category. Of these 25 patients, 23 (48% of total group) reported awakening headaches. These awakening headaches were significantly more common in the OSA group compared with the periodic limb movement disorder group, 9 (41%) of whom had headaches, none of which occurred on awakening. The proportion of common types of headaches in both groups was similar. The awakening headaches were brief (shorter than 30 minutes), and their occurrence and severity correlated with OSA severity. Of the 29 patients with OSA who were treated with continuous positive airway pressure or uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, awakening headaches improved by a mean of 80% compared with minimal improvement of migraine, tension, and cervicogenic headaches.
Awakening headaches are associated with OSA. These headaches are of brief duration, and their occurrence and severity increase with increasing OSA severity. Treatment of OSA with continuous positive airway pressure or uvulopalatopharyngoplasty can reduce these headaches.