Sleep apnea increases risk of death

Moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of death from any cause in middle-aged adults, especially men, revealed by researchers.

“Sleep-Disordered Breathing and Mortality: A Prospective Cohort Study,” is published in the August 18 issue of the open-access journal PLoS Medicine.

Overall, study participants with severe sleep apnea were at a 46 percent increased risk of death compared to those who did not have the breathing condition. The mortality risk was most apparent in men, who were more likely to die from any cause as well as from heart disease if they had severe sleep apnea. In particular, men between the ages of 40 and 70 with severe sleep apnea were twice as likely to die during the study compared to their peers who did not have the condition.

Researchers from the Sleep Heart Health Study (SHHS) studied more than 6,000 men and women aged 40 years and older who had no sleep apnea or had mild, moderate, or severe sleep apnea as determined by a standard at-home sleep test at the beginning of the study.

The results confirm findings from smaller, community-based studies which have suggested increased frequency of death among adults with sleep apnea. SHHS, which was conducted in seven medical centers across the United States, is the largest and most comprehensive prospective multi-center study to date on the risk of cardiovascular disease and other conditions related to sleep apnea.

Earlier findings from SHHS have shown that untreated sleep apnea is associated with increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, heart failure, and stroke. Other studies have also linked untreated sleep apnea with overweight and obesity, and diabetes.

More than 12 million adult Americans are believed to have sleep apnea, and most are not diagnosed or treated. Treatments to restore regular breathing during sleep include lifestyle changes, mouthpieces, surgery, and breathing devices, such as continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP.

These treatments appear to help reduce the severity of symptoms such as loud snoring and excessive daytime sleepiness, thereby improving sleep-related quality of life and performance. Randomized clinical trials to test whether treating sleep apnea lowers the risk of death and cardiovascular disease are needed.

Source: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, USA



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