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Sleep Apnea Tied to Sudden Cardiac Deaths

Update Date: Jun 11, 2013 04:21 PM EDT

Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that is defined as the failure to breathe for at least 10 seconds for as little as five times an hour during sleep. The failure to breathe has been tied to loud snoring, choking and gasping. Sleep apnea could severely disrupt sleep but a lot of people who suffer from this condition are not aware of it. In a new study, researchers suggest that sleep apnea not only disturbs sleep, it can also increase one's risk of dying form a sudden cardiac event that occurs when the heart stops beating due to the lack of oxygen.

"The prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea in Western populations is high and will likely only continue to grow given the obesity epidemic and direct relationship between obesity and sleep apnea," said Apoor Gami, MD, MSc, FACC, lead author of the study. Gami is also a cardiologist at Midwest Heart Specialists - Advocate Medical Group in Elmhust, Ill.

In one of the biggest studies to date, researchers followed 10,701 participants for an average of 5.3 years. The researchers recorded the number of apnea episodes as well as their low oxygen saturation level. Oxygen saturation levels are measured when air does not reach the lungs due to the apnea episodes. The researchers found that people aged 60 who had 20 apnea episodes and oxygen saturation levels below 78 percent were at a higher risk for a sudden cardiac death. The researchers found that when the levels dipped below 78 percent, the chances of suffering from a sudden cardiac death increased by 80 percent. These findings suggest that people should be more focused on improving their sleeping conditions.

"Treating sleep apnea in one person can improve the quality of life of both bed partners and may have the added benefit of helping to prevent cardiovascular disease," said Virend K. Somers, MD, PhD, FACC, senior author. Somers is a professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minn. "If the spouse sees the bed partner stop breathing repeatedly during sleep, this is an important clue that he or she probably has sleep apnea."

The study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The press release can be found here.

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