Sleep breathing problem raises heart attack risk

People who suffer from an illness that disrupts their breathing during sleep are more likely to suffer a fatal Heart attack or Stroke, Spanish researchers said on Friday.

But a simple treatment that regulates breathing during the night, reduces the risk, they added in a study.

The problem - severe obstructive sleep apnoea-hypopnoea - is caused by a blockage that obstructs a person’s airflow during sleep. It affects about four percent of middle-aged men and two percent of women. Sufferers can stop breathing during sleep for 10 seconds or longer.

“The results of this large, long-term ... study suggest that in untreated men ... the risk of fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular events is increased,” said Dr Jose Marin, of the University Hospital Miguel Servet in Zaragoza, Spain.

The standard treatment is known as nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) which delivers air into the airway through a face mask.

Marin and his colleagues compared the impact of the treatment on 377 snorers, 403 people with untreated severe disease, 372 others who had received CPAP and 264 health controls. Their findings are reported in The Lancet medical journal.

Snoring is not a significant risk for cardiovascular disease.

After following the health of the patients for about 10 years, they found that those with the severe, untreated disease had more Heart attack and strokes.

“There is a relation between the severity of this disease and cardiovascular risk,” said Marin, adding that CPAP reduced the risk

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Revision date: June 18, 2011
Last revised: by David A. Scott, M.D.