Obstructive sleep apnea affects around 20 million Americans and can lead to hypertension, heart attack, stroke, depression, muscle pain, fibromyalgia, morning headaches, and excessive daytime sleepiness.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Exploring the Connection between Sleep Apnea and Heart Disease

According to a study presented at the 2010 meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) tend to have more extensive and noncalcified coronary plaque. Recent studies have linked sleep apnea with coronary artery disease, and we have long known about the connection between sleep apnea and heart disease. To attempt to explore the mechanism for the connection between sleep apnea and heart disease, researchers looked at the coronary arteries of 49 people with sleep apnea and 46 people without. All patients had complained of atypical chest pain or had prior equivocal physiological testing. Here are the results of the imaging:

Extent of Coronary Artery Disease



One-vessel CAD



Two-vessel CAD



Three-vessel CAD



Four-vessel CAD




The trend had a significance of p=0.0017. In addition, the imaging showed that OSA sufferers were more likely to have noncalcified and mixed plaque, or buildup in the arteries. These soft plaques are more likely to break loose to cause acute cardiac events, such as a heart attack or sudden cardiac death.

The results of this study are compelling, and another good reason why people should seek treatment for sleep apnea early, before they develop life-threatening coronary artery disease. The main weakness of this particular study is that the body mass index of the two populations may have been a significant confounder. The average BMI of the OSA population was 33 whereas that of the non-OSA population was only 30, a potentially significant difference that was not addressed in press releases about the study. Nonetheless, the connection between cardiac death and sleep apnea continues to strengthen.

If you think you may suffer from sleep apnea, you are encouraged to seek treatment that works. To learn more about the full range of treatment options, please contact a local sleep dentist today.

posted by Dr. Candelaria at 11:41 AM