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Asthma Meds Could Increase Sleep Apnea Risk

Update Date: Mar 01, 2014 10:31 AM EST

In a new but small study, researchers discovered that taking certain asthma medications could increase one's risk of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that causes people to experience pauses in their breathing patterns during sleep. When left untreated, sleep apnea can greatly disrupt sleep, leading to sleep deprivation and health complications, such as hypertension, heart attack and stroke.

In this study, the researchers headed by Dr. Mihaela Teodorescu recruited 18 men and women participants who were diagnosed with asthma. The participants were taking 1,760 micrograms of the treatment, flucticasone (Flovent), which is inhaled. The researchers examined the participants for any changes in how their upper airways and tongue functioned during sleep.

The researchers found that all 18 of them had changes to these two specific areas that were similar to sleep apnea. For three of the patients, the researchers used MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) to measure their fat levels and found that their fat redistributed to the neck area, which caused their airways to narrow.

"Inhaled corticosteroids may predispose to sleep apnea in some asthma patients," said Dr. Teodorescu, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, in Madison, reported by WebMD.

The researchers stated that the study was a pilot one and people with asthma should continue taking their prescribed steroids if the medications are working. The researchers also added that people with asthma who also snore should consider discussing the possibility of having sleep apnea with their doctors.

"We need a larger study," said Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonologist and internist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "Time will tell when we look at a larger study."

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

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