Sleep Apnea Common in Pacemaker Users
Sleep Disorder Often Undiagnosed; Treatment May Help Heart
March 12, 2007 -- Heart patients with pacemakers have a high prevalence of
undiagnosed sleep apnea, findings from a small European study suggest.
Researchers evaluated 98 pacemaker patients for sleep apnea. Fifty-nine
percent of the patients had undiagnosed sleep apnea.
The findings are reported in the April issue of the American Heart
Association publication Circulation.
Although it is not clear from the study if sleep apnea contributed to the
need for the pacemakers, the findings highlight the need for a greater
awareness of the potential association between the two conditions, study
co-author Patrick Levy MD, PhD, tells WebMD.
“We know that there is a relationship between sleep apnea and heart
arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm),” Levy says. “The question is, ‘If we treat
the sleep apnea will we reduce the need for pacemakers?’ We don’t know, but we
need to find out.”
Obesity, Age Didn’t Explain Link
Sleep apnea is characterized by repeated interruptions of breathing during
sleep, which leads to excessive daytime sleepiness and other health
Obesity and age are both major risk factors for heart disease and sleep
apnea, but they did not explain the excess of sleep breathing problems among
the pacemaker recipients in the study, Levy says.
The patients in the study who were found to have sleep apnea also had less
daytime sleepiness than is generally reported for the condition.
“There was no relationship with [sleep apnea] symptoms in this population,
which may explain why the disorder remains undiagnosed in so many heart
patients,” Levy says.
He recommends that all heart patients who are candidates for pacemakers be
evaluated for sleep apnea before they have the devices implanted, and that
patients who have sleep apnea receive treatment for the condition.
In the absence of lifestyle changes, such as weight loss, continuous
positive airway pressure (CPAP) remains the most effective treatment for sleep
apnea. Patients wear a mask during sleep, which delivers pressurized air to the
More Study Needed
Levy says successful sleep apnea treatment may help heart patients avoid
Cardiologist Kenneth Ellenbogen, MD, tells WebMD that more study is needed
to back up this claim. But he agrees that heart patients who are candidates for
pacemakers should be evaluated for sleep apnea.
Ellenbogen is a professor of medicine at Virginia Commonwealth
“Patients who need pacemakers usually have a variety of other problems,” he
says. “A physician who puts a pacemaker in and tells the patient to come back
in six months is doing the patient a disservice.”
Ellenbogen says identifying and treating sleep apnea may prove to be as
important in heart patients as identifying and treating high blood pressure and
“It is another co-morbid condition that we can actually treat, and treat
well,” he says.