Sleep apnoea: Finnish National guidelines for prevention and treatment 2002-2012

Respir Med. 2003 Apr;97(4):337-65. doi: 10.1053/rmed.2002.1449.


(1) After negotiations with the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, a national programme to promote prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of sleep apnoea for the years 2002-2012 has been prepared by the Finnish Lung Health Association on the basis of extensive collaboration. The programme needs to be revised as necessary, because of the rapid development in medical knowledge, and in appliance therapy in particular. (2) Sleep apnoea deteriorates slowly. Its typical features are snoring, interruptions of breathing during sleep and daytime tiredness. Sleep apnoea affects roughly 3% of middle-aged men and 2% of women. In Finland, there are approx. 150,000 sleep apnea patients, of which 15,000 patients have a severe disease, 50,000 patients are moderate and 85,000 have a mild form of the disease. Children are also affected by sleep apnea. A typical sleep apnea patient is a middle-aged man or a postmenopausal woman. (3) The obstruction of upper airways is essential in the occurrence of sleep apnoea. The obstruction can be caused by structural and/or functional factors. As for structural factors, there are various methods of intervention, such as to secure children's nasal respiration, to remove redundant soft tissue, as well as to correct malocclusions. It is possible to have an effect on the functional factors by treating well diseases predisposing to sleep apnoea, by reducing smoking, the consumption of alcohol and the use of medicines impairing the central nervous system. The most important single risk factor for sleep apnoea is obesity. (4) Untreated sleep apnoea leads to an increase morbidity and mortality through heart circulatory diseases and through accidents by tiredness. Untreated or undertreated sleep apnoea deteriorates a person's quality of life and working capacity. (5) The goals of the Programme for the prevention and treatment of sleep apnoea are as follows: (1) to decrease the incidence of sleep apnoea, (2) to ensure that as many patients as possible with sleep apnoea recover, (3) to maintain capacity for work and functional capacity of patients with sleep apnoea, (4) to reduce the percentage of patients with severe sleep apnoea, (5) to decrease the number of sleep apnoea patients requiring hospitalisation and (6) to improve cost effectiveness of prevention and treatment of sleep apnoea. (6) The following means are suggested for achieving the goals: (1) to promote prevention of obesity, weight loss and weight control; (2) to promote securing of nasal respiration in child patients and removal of obstructing redundant soft tissues; (3) to promote the correction of children's malocclusions, (4) to enhance knowledge about risk factors and treatment of sleep apnoea in key groups, (5) to promote early diagnosis and active treatment, (6) to commence rehabilitation early and individually as a part of treatment and (7) to encourage scientific research. (7) On the national level, the occurrence of sleep apnoea can be prevented, for example, by encouraging weight control. The programme gives examples of such measures and appeals to various authorities and voluntary organisations to reinforce their collaboration. Preventive measures should be individualised, and based on due consideration. (8) The efficacy of diagnosing sleep apnoea should be increased. Attention should be paid to the symptoms of risk group patients at different units of the primary and occupational health care. Even mild forms of the disease should be treated appropriately. Diagnosis and treatment of the disease involve cooperation between the primary and specialised health-care sectors. Methods of treatment are (1) treatment of obesity, (2) positional therapy, (3) reduction of the use of medicines impairing the central nervous system, (4) reduction of smoking and the consumption of alcohol, (5) devices affecting the position of the tongue and lower jaw, (6) treatment with Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP-treatment), (7) surgical methods of treatment and (8) rehabilitation. (9) The hierarchy of referrals in the prevention and treatment of sleep apnoea should be revised to accord a greater role to the primary health-care sector. Good exchanges of information and cooperation between the primary health care and specialised medical-care sectors should be developed. Hospitals districts in cooperation with provincial governments and municipalities should ensure that different levels of the health-care system are capable of fulfilling the tasks assigned to them appropriately. (10) Rehabilitation of sleep apnoea should be goal-orientated and cover all forms of rehabilitation: medical, occupational and social. Rehabilitation should prevent the effects caused by the disease. Thus, it is possible to support self-care, increase the patient's resources and improve quality of life. (11) Information and training should be directed primarily towards health-care personnel, patients and their families. Organisations should produce materials for health and patient education as well as organising training events. To support the activities. financing will be needed from organisations such as Finland's Slot Machine Association. The Social Insurance Institution should disseminate information about questions of social security. Regional direction and training will mainly be the responsibilities of hospital districts, provincial governments and local health centres. The media will play an important role in the dissemination in-depth information about prevention and treatment of sleep apnoea.

Publication types

  • Guideline
  • Practice Guideline

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Finland
  • Humans
  • Patient Care Team
  • Primary Health Care
  • Program Development
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sleep / physiology
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / etiology
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / prevention & control*
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / therapy