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Sleep Apnea Linked to Increased Pneumonia Risk

Update Date: Mar 05, 2014 11:24 AM EST

People who have sleep apnea suffer from breaks in their breathing that can hurt their quality of sleep. When sleep apnea is left untreated, it can lead to many health complications as well as sleep deprivation. In a new study, researchers examined a new potential consequence of having sleep apnea. The team from the Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan reported that people with sleep apnea might have a greater risk of pneumonia.

For this study, researchers examined medical data on 341,000 patients taken from the Taiwan National Health Insurance Research Database that collected information for over 11 years. Within this sample, 6,816 of them had sleep apnea and 27,284 did not. The researchers calculated that in the sleep apnea group, 9.36 percent of them, which was 638 people, had developed pneumonia. In the control group, 7.77 percent or 2,119 of them had pneumonia. Overall, 8.09 percent, equivalent to 2,757 of them suffered from the lung infection. The people who did have the infection tended to be older and had other health conditions, which included diabetes, cardiovascular disease and dementia.

The researchers concluded that people with sleep apnea appeared to have a greater risk of developing pneumonia. The team reported that the worse the sleeping disorder was, the higher the risk became. Even though the team could not identify why they found this relationship, they reasoned that people with the sleeping disorder have a higher chance of aspirating liquid from their throat and into their lungs. This process can cause pneumonia. In addition, people with sleep apnea have disrupted sleep, which can greatly impair the body's immune system in fighting off the infection.

"Following episodes of apnea-hypopnea, resultant hypoxemia may stimulate patients to breath against a closed airway, therefore causing the intrathoracic pressure to become more negative. The more-negative intrathoracic pressure induces a higher pressure gradient and a vacuum pressure through the upper airway," the researchers explained reported by HuffPost.

The study, "Sleep apnea and risk of pneumonia: a nationwide population-based study," was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

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