Sleep Apnea Raises Arrhythmia Risk

Finding could explain rise in risk for sudden death linked to the condition

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FRIDAY, April 14, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- People who suffer from the frequent breathing interruptions of sleep apnea have a two to four times increased risk of cardiac arrhythmias as they slumber, a new U.S. study finds.

The finding could help explain why people with sleep apnea are at higher risk for sudden death while sleeping, the researchers said.

People with sleep-disordered breathing repeatedly stop breathing for 10 seconds or more while they sleep, which results in decreased oxygen levels and increased carbon dioxide in the blood and brain.

The multi-center Sleep Heart Health Study included 228 people with sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) and a control group of 338 who did not have the disorder.

In this study, the people with SDB experienced an average of about 44 breathing pauses during each hour of sleep, compared to 2.8 pauses per hour for those in the control group.

"Individuals with sleep-disordered breathing had four times the odds of atrial fibrillation and three times the odds of nonsustained ventricular tachycardia," two types of arrhythmia, researcher Dr. Reena Mehra, of University Hospitals of Cleveland at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, said in a prepared statement.

"The results of this study have potentially important clinical implications," Mehra said, because they "provide an explanation for the observed increase in sudden nocturnal death recently reported with sleep apnea."

The findings appear in the April 15 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

More information

The American College of Physicians has more about sleep apnea.

SOURCE: American Thoracic Society, news release, April 14, 2006

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