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Take Warnings About Sleep Apnea to Heart

It boosts your chances of developing cardiovascular disease

TUESDAY, July 30, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- The snoring caused by sleep apnea isn't just a nuisance -- it can increase your chances of developing cardiovascular disease.

In a new study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, researchers found that people with obstructive sleep apnea had a dramatically higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease than people without the condition.

But the good news is that with treatment, the risk drops.

"Obstructive sleep apnea was associated with an almost five-fold increase in risk for development of cardiovascular disease independent of age, body mass index, blood pressure and smoking," says study author Dr. Yuksel Peker, a pulmonologist at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Adds Dr. David Rapoport, medical director of the Sleep Disorders Clinic at New York University School of Medicine, "This is one more piece of evidence that even if you control for other known risk factors, there is a higher risk of cardiovascular disease in people with obstructive sleep apnea."

Almost one-in-four middle-aged American men and 9 percent of women have sleep apnea, the study says. People with sleep apnea stop breathing frequently while they sleep. Because their sleep is interrupted many times, they're often excessively sleepy during the day. Some of the risk factors for sleep apnea are being overweight, male and over 40, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association.

For this study, the researchers recruited 182 middle-aged men to observe them over a seven-year period. Sixty of the men were diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. None had any other known health problems when the study began.

After seven years, 22 of the 60 men with sleep apnea had developed some form of cardiovascular disease, which includes high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. By contrast, only eight of the 122 who didn't have sleep apnea had developed cardiovascular disease by the end of the study.

Peker says he suspects the increased risk comes from the intermittent periods of low oxygen supply, which stresses the body.

The researchers also found that treatment for sleep apnea was an effective way to reduce cardiovascular risk. Fifteen of the study participants with sleep apnea were considered "effectively" treated. Only one man in that group developed cardiovascular disease. But, 21 men out of the 37 who were "incompletely" treated -- for example, they may not have followed the therapy described by the doctors -- developed some form of cardiovascular disease, the study reports.

Treatment for sleep apnea can include surgery, oral devices that keep the airway open or a machine that patients wear during sleep that supplies continuous "positive airway pressure," or forcing air into the lungs.

"There was a very big difference between the treated and the untreated groups," says Dr. Glenn Gomes, medical director of the sleep lab at the Ochsner Foundation Clinic in New Orleans, who says this study further illustrates the need for people who suspect they have sleep apnea to get properly diagnosed and then seek treatment.

What To Do

To learn more about sleep apnea, visit the American Sleep Apnea Association, or Stanford University.

SOURCES: Yuksel Peker, M.D., Ph.D., consultant internist, and pulmonologist, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Gothenburg, Sweden; David Rapoport, M.D., medical director, Sleep Disorders Clinic, and associate professor of medicine, New York University Medical Center and School of Medicine, New York City; Glenn Gomes, M.D., pulmonologist and medical director of the sleep lab, Ochsner Foundation Clinic, New Orleans; July 15, 2002 American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine
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