Sleep Apnea Increases Risk of Heart Attack or Death

Sleep Apnea Increases Risk Of Heart Attack Or Death

Obstructive sleep apnea increases a person’s risk of having a heart attack and dying from it by 30% over a period of four to five years, according to studies performed over the last two decades.

The more severe the sleep apnea, the higher the risk.

One particular study from Yale University followed patients for five years and looked at the association between between sleep apnea and the combined outcome of heart attack and death.

The study included 1,123 patients referred for sleep apnea evaluation. They underwent an overnight sleep study to determine if they had sleep apnea. Over the next four to five years, they were followed to see how many had any heart disease events (heart attack, coronary angiography or bypass surgery) or died.

Sleep apnea triggers the body’s “fight or flight” mechanism, which decreases the amount of blood pumped to the heart. Repeated episodes every night for a few years can starve the heart of enough oxygen when it is combined with the body’s decreased oxygen intake due to the frequent breathing stoppages during the night, Dr. Shah says.

“We recommend that patients who experience symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea–excessive daytime sleepiness, or snoring along with breathing pauses–consult their physician,” said Dr Neomi Shah, MD, head researcher of the study from Yale. “There is some evidence to make us believe that when sleep apnea is appropriately treated, the risk of heart disease can be lowered.”

In obstructive sleep apnea, the upper airway narrows, or collapses, during sleep. Periods of apnea end with a brief partial arousal that may disrupt sleep hundreds of times a night. Obesity is a major risk factor for sleep apnea.

CPAP which stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, which delivers air through a mask while the patient sleeps, keeping the airway open is still the most effective treatment for sleep apnea. In many cases, it has helped provide a good night’s sleep, preventing daytime accidents due to sleepiness and improving quality of life.