Snoring: headache or heartache?

Studies point to connection between sleep apnea, stroke and heart disease

Most people think snoring is a normal part of a good night’s rest. But in reality, snoring may actually be more than just a nuisance for your bedmate or family – it might be a symptom of sleep apnea, a common disorder that could be impacting your heart and vascular health.

If left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and associated risk factors, including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and diabetes, according to a recent National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) report.

“Sleep apnea is a serious disorder that often goes undiagnosed and untreated,” said David Winslow, M.D., medical director of the Norton Audubon Hospital Sleep Disorders Center. “Each new study released confirms what we’ve thought to be true for years – treating sleep apnea can significantly improve a patient’s overall health and well-being.”

A recent NHLBI study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine focused on sleep apnea’s connection to stroke, and offered additional support to previous studies on the disorder’s impact on heart disease risk factors.

A 2000 study found that middle-age and older adults with sleep apnea have a 45 percent greater risk of hypertension, or high blood pressure, than people without sleep apnea. “Patients who treat their sleep apnea may see improvement in their blood pressure and are often better able to manage diabetes and other heart disease risk factors,” Dr. Winslow said.

Think you or a loved one may have sleep apnea?

The NHLBI estimates more than 12 million Americans have sleep apnea. The disorder reduces the amount of air that flows through your mouth and nose to your lungs during sleep. The most common warning signs include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Choking or gasping during sleep
  • Excessive sleepiness during waking hours despite a full-night’s sleep

–Steven Jenkins