Sleep apnea therapy may lower heart risks
For people with the breathing disorder sleep apnea, sticking with therapy may aid not only their breathing but also their hearts, a study suggests.
Greek researchers found that patients who best adhered to their treatment with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) also showed dips in their cholesterol and other blood substances associated with heart disease.
CPAP is considered the most effective therapy for obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder in which the soft tissues of the throat temporarily collapse during sleep, causing repeated stops and starts in breathing throughout the night. The therapy involves wearing a facemask through which the CPAP device delivers pressurized air to keep the airways open.
Besides its direct symptoms—like loud snoring and daytime sleepiness—sleep apnea may also raise the risks of cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease. This is thought to be because the disorder causes chronic oxygen deprivation and nervous system activation during sleep, which may stress the cardiovascular system over time.
In theory, treating sleep apnea should reduce the cardiovascular risks linked to the disorder. The new findings, published in the medical journal Chest, add to evidence that it does.
Researchers found that among 53 men and women who were advised to start CPAP therapy, those who most consistently used the CPAP device showed drops in their levels of cholesterol, C-reactive protein (CRP) and homocysteine. CRP and homocysteine are blood proteins associated with heart disease risk.
In contrast, fewer benefits were seen among patients who were less consistent with their CPAP treatment—using the device for fewer than 4 hours per night, on average. They showed a decrease in homocysteine only.
Meanwhile, patients who refused CPAP therapy altogether had no changes in any of the measured heart disease markers.
The findings highlight the importance of sticking with sleep apnea treatment, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Paschalis Steiropoulos of the University Hospital of Alexandroupolis.
“These observations,” the researchers write, “may help to explain the favorable effects of CPAP therapy on cardiovascular morbidity and mortality and underline the importance of compliance with CPAP treatment.”
SOURCE: Chest, September 2007.
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