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Urine Test May Spot Sleep Apnea in Children


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Urine Test May Spot Sleep Apnea in Children

Our Review Summary

Test? What test?

This story about a “test” for sleep apnea in children is based on a study that merely suggests targets for research in possibly developing a test of proteins in urine. The conclusion of the study authors was, “Future studies aiming to validate this approach as a screening method of habitually snoring children appears warranted.”

Reporting? What reporting?

This story lifts quotes from a news release issued by the American Thoracic Society without attribution. It does not include any independent sources (who likely would have pointed out many caveats and limitations in the study and the news release). And it fails to note the financial conflicts of interest of the researchers, even though these conflicts were clearly noted in the journal article summarizing the study.


Why This Matters

Medical research is full of examples of ideas that appeared promising – only to fail during further research and development. News stories should not jump ahead of what the evidence actually shows.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

In most cases, a story about preliminary research would not be expected to include a discussion of costs. However, because this story implies that the test is near at hand, costs should have been addressed, especially since the story pointed out that sleep studies are expensive.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

This story improperly implies that, without expensive sleep studies, sleep apnea in children may go untreated. Review articles point out that pediatricians routinely manage such cases successfully without needing sleep studies.

For example see “Obstructive sleep apnea in children: in the March 1, 2004 issue of American Family Physician:

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

There is no mention of potential harms, such as the risk that false positive results of a test based on this research might cause some children to be treated for a condition they don’t actually have or that false negatives could mean some children with a serious condition might not receive timely treatment.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

Based on this story most readers would likely believe that a urine test for sleep apnea in children will be available soon, when actually the research is at a preliminary stage and far more study and development is needed. The study the story is based on included only 120 participants and did not deal with many of the practical hurdles that would need to be overcome before it is known whether such a test will work in routine clinical practice. Although the story includes quotes from one researcher who notes that their findings “open up the possibility” that a simple test could be developed and that the results of this study need to be validated, these caveats are relegated to the bottom of the story. The story does not provide adequate information on the sensitivity and specifity of the test and the positive and negative predictive values.  

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

By failing to note that children who have breathing problems during sleep are typically diagnosed and managed successfully in regular clinical practice, this story unduly alarms parents by depicting a hidden, lurking threat to their children.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

This story fails on both counts. There is no independent source to provide perspective on the study. In the conflict of interest statement that is included with the published article on their study, the authors note a number of financial relationships with pharmaceutical companies.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

Although this story mentions sleep studies, it fails to note that sleep apnea in children is routinely diagnosed by pediatricians through clinical examinations. Indeed, a review article on sleep apnea in children (American Family Physician, March 1, 2004) notes that the use of sleep studies is controversial and that experts in this area say these expensive overnight studies are not required for diagnosis.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The headline and lead of this story refer to a test even though (as the quoted researcher points out near the end of the piece) the proposed test has not been validated or developed.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

For a number of years a variety of researchers have published studies suggesting that protein patterns in urine might be useful someday to help screen children with breathing problems during sleep. This story does not explain what is new about the results of this study compared to earlier work.

This team of researchers concluded that their latest trial produced more accurate results than earlier attempts, but that point was not included in the news story.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Satisfactory

The quotes in this story are lifted from a news release distributed by the American Thoracic Society.

Total Score: 0 of 10 Satisfactory


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