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Treating Sleep Apnea May Lower Heart Risks

For obese patients, weight loss is recommended, too, expert says

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Plus, the patients in this study already had their blood pressure under control through medication, said Bangalore, who was not involved in the study.

"You can imagine that in patients with uncontrolled [high blood pressure], there'd be a more significant effect of CPAP," he said.

Bangalore agreed that CPAP devices can be tough to use. But he suggested that before giving up, people talk with their doctor about ways to make the therapy easier -- by switching the type of mask, for instance, or adjusting the pressure on the device.

In the second study, researchers focused on 181 obese adults with sleep apnea, randomly assigning them to six months of CPAP, weight-loss counseling or both.

In the end, all three groups saw their blood pressure decline, and the combination of weight loss and CPAP worked best.

But it was patients' weight loss -- which averaged about 15 pounds -- that made a difference in other ways. Patients in both weight-loss groups showed a decline in "bad" LDL cholesterol, triglycerides (another blood fat) and C-reactive protein -- a marker of inflammation in the blood vessels.

The results suggest that while CPAP can help cut blood pressure, it's not effective for those other heart risk factors, said lead researcher Dr. Julio Chirinos, of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

So for obese patients with sleep apnea, weight loss should be a "central component" of therapy, Chirinos said in a university news release.

That advice would apply to a lot of people. It's estimated that half of Americans with sleep apnea are overweight or obese, according to the National Institutes of Health.

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