Study Links Sleep Apnea with Heart Failure

Study Links Sleep Apnea with Heart Failure

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Ed Yeates ReportingOne of the strongest studies yet has linked a common sleep disorder with a life threatening heart disease that may afflict as many as 29 million Americans.

The study from LDS Hospital's Sleep Disorders Center suggests that among those who have serious obstructive sleep apnea, as it's called, 90 percent may have a cardiac condition.

Almost two years ago when we first visited Mark Eskelson, he was using a new C-PAP machine to help regulate his breathing at night. He has a condition called obstructive sleep apnea where the body was waking constantly because he would unconsciously stop breathing, if only for seconds at a time.

Dr. James Walker, LDS Hospital Sleep Disorders Center: "Every time a person stops breathing, the brain needs to wake up momentarily to start breathing again. And this is something people won't remember but it can happen hundreds of times during the night."

Mark not only has sleep apnea but later developed congestive heart failure. Did the apnea contribute to his heart condition? Researchers have long suspected a link. Now, after two years of study the connection is apparent.

Momentary lapses in breathing increase heart rate and blood pressure. From sleep related stress and lack of oxygen, one ventricle in the heart may enlarge abnormally. Over time, the condition deteriorates. Untreated, the heart can fail.

The ever increasing incidence of sleep apnea is also directly related to the rise in obesity in this country. While not all people who have sleep apnea are overweight, most are. Excess weight narrows the airways in the upper part of the throat. In fact, Dr. James Walker says when they lose the excess pounds, the apnea often goes away.

Dr. James Walker, LDS Hospital Sleep Disorders Center: "Absolutely. And with many patients, weight loss alone will result in a resolution of the sleep apnea."

Results of the study now will certainly encourage doctors to treat sleep apnea early and aggressively, before heart problems develop.

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