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Sleep apnea doubles the chances of sudden death

By Steven Reinberg
Health Day reporter

TUESDAY, Aug 3, 2021 (HealthDay News) – With apologies to William Shakespeare, here’s what bad dreams are made of: Sleep apnea can double your risk of sudden death.

The disease – in which a person’s airways are repeatedly blocked during sleep, causing pauses in breathing – can also increase the risk of high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure, new research shows. .

“This [study] adds to the growing body of evidence that underscores the importance of screening, diagnosing and treating sleep apnea, ”said Dr. Kannan Ramar, Past President of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM ).

Ramar, who reviewed the results, said they underlined the importance of recognizing a widespread and often underdiagnosed disease that has become a growing public health problem.

For the study, a team from Penn State University looked at 22 studies involving more than 42,000 patients worldwide. Their review found that people with obstructive sleep apnea were at a greater risk of dying suddenly, and the risk increased as patients got older.

“Our research shows that this disease can be life threatening,” lead researcher Anna Ssentongo said in an academic press release. She is an assistant professor and epidemiologist at Penn State.

The repeated interruptions of breathing in sleep apnea cut off the supply of oxygen to cells, which can lead to an imbalance of antioxidants in the body. This imbalance harms cells and can speed up the aging process, leading to many health problems, researchers say.

The study’s authors said the findings underscore the urgency of treating sleep apnea.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the standard treatment for moderate to severe apnea, according to the AASM. CPAP provides a constant flow of pressurized air through a mask worn while sleeping. The airflow keeps the airways open, preventing pauses in breathing while restoring normal oxygen levels.

Other options include oral appliances designed to keep the airways open and, in some cases, surgery to remove tissue from the soft palate, uvula, tonsils, adenoids, or tongue.

Losing weight also benefits many people with sleep apnea, as does sleeping on your side. Over-the-counter nasal strips, internal nasal dilators, and lubricant sprays typically reduce snoring, but the AASM says there is no evidence that they help treat sleep apnea.

Dr. Tetyana Kendzerska, assistant professor of medicine in the division of pulmonology at the University of Ottawa in Canada, noted that this was not the first study to link sleep apnea with premature death.

She noted that apnea can increase the risk of sudden death in several ways, including an intermittent deficit in oxygen supply to tissues; sleep fragmentation; inflammation; and chronic activation of the nervous system.

Kendzerska, who was not in the study, said it could be assumed that treating apnea would reduce the risk of sudden death, but that may not be the case.

She noted that a preliminary report from the U.S. Healthcare Quality and Research Agency suggested that there was little evidence that PCP reduced the risk of death from all causes, stroke, etc. heart attack or other heart problems.

“This means we need more and better studies to show the effect of CPAP on all-cause mortality and cardiovascular outcomes,” she said.

The results were recently published online in the journal BMJ Open Respiratory Research.

More information

To learn more about sleep apnea, visit the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

SOURCES: Kannan Ramar, MD, past president, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Darien, Ill. ; Tetyana Kendzerska, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; BMJ Open Respiratory Research, June 9, 2021, online


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