Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Health Risks of Snoring and Sleep Apnea, From Heart Attacks to Car Accidents

At least 37 million adults snore on a regular basis, according to the National Sleep Foundation. But all snoring is not equal: Occasional snoring, due to congestion or a bad sleeping position, is a nuisance. Habitual snoring can disturb your sleep patterns and rob both you and your partner of needed rest.

Snoring to the extent that you stop breathing—as in the case of obstructive sleep apnea—is a serious health threat that puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke.

How sleep apnea affects your heart
A 2007 study from Yale University found that sleep apnea increases the risk of heart attack or death by 30% over a four- to five-year period. As the upper airway collapses and oxygen is cut off from the lungs, the body triggers a fight-or-flight response, which decreases blood flow to the heart. Together these two actions raise blood pressure and, over time, wear out the heart, the authors concluded.

Karen Shaver, 62, a registered nurse in Valencia, Pa., experienced firsthand sleep apnea's strain on her heart.

"Before I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, I frequently had chest pains, usually at early evening while I napped," says Shaver. "One really scared me: Both arms were numb and it radiated up to my jaw. Being a nurse, I knew this was not a good sign, so I called 911."

The ambulance technicians gave Shaver oxygen and rushed her to the hospital. By then the strange feeling had gone away and doctors couldn't find anything wrong with her.

An overnight sleep study, however, showed that Shaver wasn't getting enough oxygen while she slept, and that she needed a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to keep air flowing into her lungs. Since she began treatment, her chest pains have disappeared.