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New Stroke Risk Factor: Sleep Apnea

Death, Stroke Risk Doubles With Obstructive Sleep Apnea
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Can Sleep Apnea Treatment Save Lives? continued...

Yaggi says there's a strong suggestion that treatment did help.

"We think perhaps the risk would have been even greater if those people had not gotten treated," he says. "But the design of our study was not such that we could draw any conclusions about the impact of therapy. That is the next study that needs to be done."

There's no argument that sleep apnea treatment can get quick results in treating many of the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. Treatment not only helps snoring and daytime drowsiness, but it also reduces the high blood pressure caused by sleep apnea, says David M. Rapoport, MD, director of the sleep medicine program at New York University. Rapoport was not involved in the Yaggi study.

"Maybe it takes a long time to accumulate the effects of treatment, and even though patients get better they may not eliminate the stroke risk right away," Rapoport tells WebMD. "There is a cumulative effect of sleep apnea. It is like smoking. If you smoke for 20 years and then stop, you are at higher risk of lung cancer for a while."

Treating Sleep Apnea

Treatment for obstructive sleep apnea gets better all the time, experts tell WebMD. Which treatment is best? That depends on the severity of the problem.

Many people with sleep apnea are obese. Sleep apnea can cause weight gain. The good news is that relatively little weight loss has a huge effect on improving sleep apnea.

"Obstructive sleep apnea tends to melt away with weight loss," Yaggi says. "If patients are able to maintain weight loss, the obstructive sleep apnea gets better or goes away. Just 10% to 20% weight reduction cuts in half the severity of obstructive sleep apnea. Just that much -- it's not necessary to drop down to one's ideal weight."

For people with mild sleep apnea, treatment might be as simple as sleeping on one's side. If that sounds like a problem, try sleeping in a T-shirt with a tennis ball sewn into the middle of the back.

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