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Sleep apnea can 'increase the risk of cardiovascular events'

·2-min read

Health experts are calling for an increased awareness of the association between obstructive sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs when an upper airway obstruction causes repeated episodes of disrupted breathing during sleep, with symptoms including snoring, lapses in breathing, fragmented sleep and daytime sleepiness.

In a new scientific statement from the American Heart Association, published on Monday in its flagship journal Circulation, health experts called for more awareness of the link between OSA and cardiovascular disease, stating that despite OSA occurring in 40 to 80 per cent of people with the disease, it is still under-recognised and undertreated.

"Obstructive sleep apnea can negatively impact patients' health and increase the risk of cardiovascular events and death. This statement is to encourage increased awareness, screening and treatment as appropriate for sleep apnea," said Yerem Yeghiazarians, MD, Chair of the scientific statement writing group.

OSA risk factors include obesity, large neck circumference, smoking, family history, and nighttime nasal congestion.

It is present in 30 to 50 per cent of people with high blood pressure and as many as 80 per cent of people with pulmonary hypertension, and it is also associated with stroke, worsening heart failure, worsening coronary artery disease and risk of heart attack, heart rhythm disorders, and Type 2 diabetes.

Although it hasn't been proven that screening for OSA changes clinical outcomes, the group believes there is still reason to screen and provide treatment, given the prevalence of OSA among those with cardiovascular disease and that interventions improve quality of life.

"Patients report better mood, less snoring, less daytime sleepiness, improved quality of life and work productivity with OSA treatment," Yeghiazarians said.

"Improvements in home diagnostic tools and more research on ways to identify cardiovascular risk in people with OSA are needed. Still, the overall message is clear: we need to increase awareness about screening for and treating OSA, especially in patients with existing cardiovascular risk factors."

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