Sleep apnea worsens heart disease: Study finds

Obstructive sleep apnea can negatively impact patients’ health and increase the risk of cardiovascular events and death

Health care experts urge increased awareness of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) among people with cardiovascular disease or risk factors such as high blood pressure, according to a new study.

OSA occurs in 40 per cent to 80 per cent of people with cardiovascular disease, yet it is under-recognised and undertreated, according to the study. The findings of the study were published in ‘Circulation’, the Association’s flagship journal.

OSA occurs when an upper airway obstruction causes repeated episodes of disrupted breathing during sleep. Symptoms include snoring, lapses in breathing, fragmented Sleep apnea and daytime sleepiness. In general, about 34 per cent of middle-aged men and 17 per cent of middle-aged women meet the criteria for OSA.

“Obstructive sleep apnea can negatively impact patients’ health and increase the risk of cardiovascular events and death. This statement is to encourage increased awareness, screening and treatment as appropriate for sleep apnea,” said Chair of the scientific statement writing group Yerem Yeghiazarians, M.D., FAHA, professor of medicine and the Leone-Perkins Family Endowed Chair in Cardiology at the University of California, San Francisco.

Sleep apnea worsens heart disease: Study finds

Risk factors for OSA include obesity, large neck circumference, craniofacial abnormalities, smoking, family history and nighttime nasal congestion. OSA is associated with several cardiovascular complications:

1. High blood pressure – OSA is present in 30-50 per cent of people with high blood pressure, and up to 80 per cent of those who have resistant, or hard-to-treat high blood pressure
2. Heart rhythm disorders such as atrial fibrillation and sudden cardiac death
3. Stroke
4. Worsening heart failure
5. Worsening coronary artery disease and risk of heart attack
6. Pulmonary hypertension (PH) – as many as 80 per cent of people with PH have OSA
7. Metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes
While there’s no consensus that screening for OSA alters clinical outcomes, the high prevalence of OSA among people with cardiovascular disease, along with evidence that OSA treatment improves patient quality of life, are reasons to screen and provide treatment, according to the study.

“Patients report better mood, less snoring, less daytime sleepiness, improved quality of life and work productivity with OSA treatment,” Yeghiazarians said.

Yeghiazarians added, “In addition, screening advances have changed how we diagnose and treat obstructive sleep apnea. For example, many patients do not have to go to an overnight sleep study center anymore. There are now sleep devices approved by the FDA that patients use at home and send back to their doctor for assessment. And, while a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine is one form of treatment, there are numerous therapeutic options – from positional therapy and weight loss to oral appliances and surgery – depending on the cause and severity of someone’s OSA.”

The authors suggest:
1. Screening for OSA in patients with resistant or difficult to control hypertension, pulmonary hypertension and atrial fibrillation that recurs despite treatment.
2. Screening for OSA via a sleep study for some patients with heart failure, especially if sleep-disordered breathing or excessive daytime sleepiness are suspected.
3. Treating patients diagnosed with OSA with available therapies, potentially including lifestyle and behavior modifications and weight loss.
4. When possible, treating patients with severe OSA with a CPAP machine.
5. Treating mild to moderate OSA cases with oral appliances that adjust the jaw and tongue placement during sleep to prevent obstructed breathing.
6. Routine follow-up including overnight sleep testing to confirm if treatment is effective.

“Improvements in home diagnostic tools and more research on ways to identify cardiovascular risk in people with OSA are needed,” Yeghiazarians said.

“Still, the overall message is clear: we need to increase awareness about screening for and treating OSA, especially in patients with existing cardiovascular risk factors,” Yeghiazarians concluded. 

Digpu News Staff

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