Obstructive sleep apnea is a very serious condition in which people have trouble breathing during sleep because their airway is blocked. They may have very shallow breath or even stop breathing briefly several times per night.
A device called CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) helps people with obstructive sleep apnea breathe more easily during sleep.
The new study comes from German doctors including Nikolaus Buchner, MD, of Germany's Ruhr University Bochum.
Buchner and colleagues offered CPAP machines to 449 adults with mild, moderate, or severe obstructive sleep apnea. All but 85 patients accepted the devices.
The patients, who got regular checkups, were typically followed for about six years.
Those who accepted CPAP were 64% less likely to have certain fatal or nonfatal cardiovascular problems -- including heart attacks and strokes -- during the study period, regardless of their age, BMI (body mass index), type 2 diabetes, cholesterol, and history of heart disease.
Buchner and colleagues note that their findings may not apply to everyone with obstructive sleep apnea.
However, the researchers write that therapy for obstructive sleep apnea "should be considered" even for mild forms of obstructive sleep apnea.
The study appears in an advance online edition of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.