Sleep apnea decreases blood oxygen levels, increasing the risk of heart problems.

Sleep apnea decreases blood oxygen levels, increasing the risk of heart problems.

Sleep Apnea Linked to Increased Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke


Sleep apnea, characterized by erratic breathing leading to drops in oxygen levels, has been found to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. These findings, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, shed light on the potential benefits of treating sleep apnea in preventing cardiovascular events. The research, led by Ali Azarbarzin, director of the Sleep Apnea Health Outcomes Research Group, provides valuable insights into understanding high-risk versions of obstructive sleep apnea.

To explore the relationship between sleep apnea and cardiovascular risk, the study analyzed data from over 4,500 middle-aged and older adults who participated in two separate research studies. One study focused on fractures in men, while the other examined atherosclerosis in both men and women. The results revealed a clear association between dropped blood oxygen levels and increased risk of cardiovascular events. Each drop in blood oxygen level in the fracture study led to a 45% rise in cardiovascular risk, while in the atherosclerosis study, the risk increased by 13%.

Interestingly, the researchers discovered that airway obstruction was the main contributing factor, accounting for 38% of the risk observed in the fracture study and 12% in the atherosclerosis study. These findings were consistent with the increased risk of premature death associated with sleep apnea. The study team emphasized that the decreased oxygen levels were primarily due to the obstruction of the airway, rather than other factors like obesity or reduced lung function.

Dr. Gonzalo Labarca, lead author of the study, highlighted the significance of this specific metric in identifying sleep apnea-related risks. He stated that this metric distinguishes sleep apnea from other conditions commonly associated with low oxygen levels, such as obesity. As a result, these findings could potentially shape the design of sleep apnea clinical trials and the metrics measured in clinical practice.

Understanding the mechanisms underlying sleep apnea and its relationship to cardiovascular health holds significant implications for future research and medical interventions. Treating sleep apnea could potentially prevent the occurrence of heart attacks and strokes. Marishka Brown, director of the National Center for Sleep Disorders Research, expressed her optimism about how these findings could revolutionize sleep apnea clinical trials and influence clinical practice.

The study’s conclusions highlight the urgent need to address sleep apnea as a contributing risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. Sleep apnea is a prevalent sleep disorder affecting millions of people worldwide. It interrupts breathing patterns during sleep, leading to disrupted rest and drops in oxygen levels. Common symptoms include loud snoring, daytime fatigue, and waking up frequently during the night. If left untreated, sleep apnea can profoundly impact both physical and mental health.

It is important to raise awareness about the potential risks associated with sleep apnea and to encourage individuals to seek medical evaluation and treatment. Diagnosis typically involves undergoing a sleep study, where breathing patterns, blood oxygen levels, and other physiological parameters are closely monitored. Treatment options for sleep apnea may include lifestyle modifications, such as weight loss and avoiding alcohol, as well as medical interventions like continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy and oral appliances.

In conclusion, sleep apnea has been found to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke due to drops in blood oxygen levels caused by airway obstruction. This research highlights the importance of recognizing sleep apnea as a serious health condition and the potential benefits of treating it to prevent cardiovascular events. By shedding light on the relationship between sleep apnea and cardiovascular health, this study opens up new avenues for future research and could potentially improve the lives of millions of individuals impacted by this sleep disorder.