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Men's Sleep Apnea Increases Heart Problems

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) Helps, Say Spanish Researchers
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WebMD Health News

March 17, 2005 -- Men with severe obstructive sleep apnea appear to run a higher risk of fatal or nonfatal heart problems.obstructive sleep apnea appear to run a higher risk of fatal or nonfatal heart problems.

But treating men's sleep apnea with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) for at least four hours a night can lower that risk, a new Spanish study shows.

"Treatment with CPAP significantly reduces cardiovascular risk in patients with severe obstructive sleep apnea," write the researchers.

Breathing Briefly Blocked During Sleep

Sleep apnea is a disorder in which a person regularly stops breathing during sleep for 10 seconds or longer. The episodes can happen from five to 50 times per hour. That's beyond occasional interruptions in breathing, which are normal.

Obstructive sleep apneaObstructive sleep apnea -- the focus of the Spanish study -- is usually caused by a blockage in the nose or mouth from a structural problem that gets in the way of airflow during sleep.

Most patients are overweight, middle-aged men, but anyone can get it, including children. Obstructive sleep apnea affects 4% of middle-aged men and 2% of middle-aged women, say researchers.

The problem is also a hazard during waking hours. "This disorder is widely accepted to be associated with high rates of morbidity and mortality, mostly due to [heart] disease and traffic accidents," write the researchers.

Hearts at Risk?

Many previous studies have shown that obstructive sleep apnea significantly increases the risk of fatal or nonfatal heart problems, especially in people with pre-existing heart disease, say researchers.

Their goal was to improve on those studies and see if CPAP made a difference.

CPAPCPAP helps people with obstructive sleep apnea breathe more easily during sleep. It's considered the first treatment of choice and is the most widely used approach to obstructive sleep apnea.

Patients use the CPAP device at home every night. They wear a mask that covers their nose, or nasal prongs that are hooked to a hose and the machine. The device forces air into the airways, which prevents it from collapsing when the patient inhales.

All of the study's participants were men. The researchers say they chose not to include women because other factors - such as sex hormones -- can affect heart disease.

Here's how the group broke down:

  • 264 healthy men
  • 377 men who snored but did not have obstructive sleep apnea
  • 403 men with mild-to-moderate obstructive sleep apnea that had not been treated
  • 235 men with severe obstructive sleep apnea that had not been treated
  • 372 men with obstructive sleep apnea treated with CPAP

Patients checked in with the researchers at least once a year for about 10 years. Strokes and heart attacks were noted, along with heart bypass surgery and angiography.

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