Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Snoring can be more than just an annoyance–if untreated it can have the same effect on the cardiovascular system as diabetes, according to new research from a Romanian medical doctor.
The research, which was presented this week at the at EUROECHO and other Imaging Modalities 2012 conference by Dr. Raluca Mincu, showed that the nighttime breathing disorder is a sign of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition known to cause a variety of illnesses and disorders, and can also lead to serious accidents.
OSA has been closely associated with cardiovascular disorders, including increased risk of hypertension, arrhythmia, obesity, myocardial infarction, and stroke.
“There are not enough studies in the medical literature on early cardiovascular dysfunction in patients with OSA, when active steps can be taken to prevent progression to heart failure,” Mincu said. “Because OSA leads to so many cardiovascular disorders, we compared early cardiovascular dysfunction in OSA patients and patients with diabetes mellitus, which is a typical risk factor for cardiovascular disease.”
In the study, 20 patients with moderate to severe OSA (and no diabetes), 20 patients with treated type 2 diabetes mellitus, and 20 healthy patients were assessed for their arterial function. All five metrics used to measure arterial stiffness were significantly higher in the OSA and diabetes mellitus groups compared to the control group. The OSA and diabetes groups also showed poor endothelial function.
“Patients with moderate to severe OSA had endothelial dysfunction and higher arterial stiffness than controls, and their results were similar to patients with diabetes mellitus,” Mincu explained. “This suggests that OSA is associated with a high risk for cardiovascular disease.”
“Patients in the OSA and diabetes groups had a higher intima-media thickness (IMT), which shows that their arteries are remodeled in a pathological way,” she added.
Mincu said her research shows that people who snore should not consider it a simple nighttime nuisance.
“Patients should realize that behind snoring there can be a serious cardiac pathology and they should get referred to a sleep specialist,” she said. “If they are diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, they are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease and need to adopt a heart healthy lifestyle to reduce that risk.”
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the typically prescribed treatment for sleep apnea and many people resist it because the treatment requires the sleeper to wear a mask, which can be unpleasant. Another problem with CPAP is that it only provides a continuous airflow and does not treat the underlying cause of OSA.
“Although OSA treatment with (CPAP) is inconvenient — it requires sleeping with a mask — patients should use it because it can reverse the parameters measured in our study,” Mincu said.
The Romanian doctor said she hopes her study spurs additional research and dialogue surrounding the treatment of OSA.
“Our study is a signal for cardiologists, pneumologists and general practitioners to work together to actively diagnose obstructive sleep apnea, administer the appropriate treatment (CPAP) and assess arterial function,” she said. “This will help avoid progression of early cardiovascular dysfunction through to heart failure, the final stage of heart disease.”