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Men with untreated severe obstructive sleep apnea have a higher incidence of fatal and nonfatal heart problems compared to other men. But, according to a study in the March 19, 2005 issue of the Lancet, the risk of heart problems is reduced when sleep apnea is treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), the common therapy for the condition. The study included 264 healthy men, 377 men who snored but did not have sleep apnea, 403 with untreated mild to moderate sleep apnea, 235 with untreated severe sleep apnea, and 372 with sleep apnea who were treated with CPAP. Participants were followed up at least once a year for an average of 10 years.
The researchers found that men with untreated severe sleep apnea were almost three times as likely as healthy participants to suffer from a fatal heart attack or stroke, and more than three times as likely to have a non-fatal heart attack or stroke or to require heart surgery. Men with sleep apnea who were treated with CPAP had about one-third the risk of having a fatal heart problem compared to men with untreated severe sleep apnea.
People with obstructive sleep apnea have a significantly increased risk of sudden death from heart problems during sleep, reports The New England Journal of Medicine (March 24, 2005). This contrasts with the dip in sudden death from heart problems during sleep in people who do not have sleep apnea and in the general population.
Researchers reviewed the records of 112 sleep study participants who had subsequently died suddenly from cardiac causes. The researchers compared the rates of sudden death during various times of day from cardiac causes among people with sleep apnea with rates of sudden death among people without sleep apnea, rates in the general population, and expectations according to chance.
In more than half of those participants with sleep apnea, sudden death from cardiac causes occurred between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. By contrast, the people without sleep apnea had a day-night pattern of sudden death from cardiac causes very similar to that in the general population, with a peak in sudden death from cardiac causes from 6 a.m. to noon. The risk of sudden death from cardiac causes during sleep hours was 40% higher overall in people with severe apnea, compared to people with mild-to-moderate sleep apnea.
Originally published as a Johns Hopkins Health Alert