Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Pain Intensity in Young Adults

Wardah Athar, Mary E. Card, Antonios Charokopos, Kathleen M. Akgü, Eric C. Derycke, Sally G. Haskell, Henry K. Yaggi, Lori A. Bastian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rationale: Prior research studies on the association of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and pain intensity have examined older patients; there is a need to understand the relationship between OSA and pain intensity among younger adults. Objectives: To examine whether young adults with diagnosed OSA are more likely to report higher pain intensity compared with those without OSA. Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional analysis of a cohort study of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn veterans who had at least one visit to a Veterans Health Administration primary care clinic between 2001 and 2014. OSA was identified using one inpatient or two outpatient International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision codes from electronic medical records. Average pain intensity (based on the self-reported 0-10 numeric rating scale over a 12-month period) was categorized as no pain/mild (0-3; no pain) and moderate/severe (4-10; significant pain). Covariates included age, sex, education, race, mental health diagnoses, headache diagnoses, pain diagnoses, hypertension, diabetes, body mass index, and smoking status. Multivariate logistic regression models were used, and multiple imputation was performed to generate values for missing variables. Results: We identified 858,226 young adults (mean age 30 yr [SD= 7]), of whom 91,244 (10.6%) had a diagnosis of OSA and 238,587 (27.8%) reported moderate/severe pain for the 12-month average. with young adults without OSA, those with OSA were more likely to report moderate/severe pain intensity (adjusted odds ratio, 1.09; 95% confidence interval, 1.08-1.11) even after controlling for covariates. Conclusions: We found that young adults with OSA have greater odds of comorbid moderate/severe pain. Because of the high prevalence of chronic pain in younger adults, this study highlights the need to understand the impact of OSA diagnosis and treatment on pain intensity. Future work is needed to determine the role of effective OSA treatment on pain intensity over time in these young adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1273-1278
Number of pages6
JournalAnnals of the American Thoracic Society
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2020


  • Headache
  • Pain intensity
  • Sleep apnea
  • Veterans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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