Loud snoring, interrupted breathing and sleep disruption – classic signs of sleep apnea – raise the risk of premature death, according to a new study published in PLos Medicine.
Patients with moderate sleep apnea face a 17 percent greater risk of death, compared with those who do not have the disorder, finds the U.S. study which spanned eight years.
“The study’s primary finding is that sleep apnea raises the risk of death by 40 percent, even after accounting for several factors,” said lead study author Dr. Naresh Punjabi, associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
“The findings also shows that it is the decrease in oxygen levels during sleep from sleep apnea explains the increased risk of death,” added Punjabi. Men, ages 40 to 70, with sleep apnea face a greater risk of premature death from any source, but especially cardiovascular disease, the researchers found.
There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed; of the three, obstructive sleep apnea (OSP) is the most common.
Sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the back of the neck fail to keep the airway open.
It is involuntary and the individual usually wakes himself up after a breathing pause that lasts at least ten seconds up to 30 seconds, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Left untreated, sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, memory problems, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, and headaches. Untreated sleep apnea may also be responsible for job impairment and motor vehicle crashes.
For the study, researchers followed more than 6,400 men and women who had mild to severe sleep apnea or no sleep difficulties whatsoever. Several participants were described “snorers,” a primary symptom of sleep apnea.
Study participants were measured by a machine as they slept at home. The device recorded the number and duration of interruptions in breathing. Over an average of eight years 1,047 of the participants died – 587 men and 460 women. Among men ages 40 to 70 whose breathing was blocked the most often -- 30 or more times per hour -- the risk of dying more than doubled.
The number of women followed in the study, was too small to provide statistically meaningful results.
Sleep apnea affects more than twelve million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health.
"Weight loss is the best treatment for sleep apnea. However, a nasal CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) mask that applies pressure to help keep the airways of a patient open while they sleep, allowing normal breathing is the most successful treatment," said Dr. David Rapoport of New York University, who worked on the study.
"Other possible treatments include tonsil removal and a mouth guard that pulls the patient’s mouth forward," said Rapoport. #