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Sleep Your Way to Better Heart Health


While visions of sugar plums dance in the heads of many youngsters at this time of year, some adults dealing with obstructive sleep apnea spend their nights tossing and turning instead of dreaming of Santa’s sleigh.

Patients with obstructive sleep apnea can wake up dozens or even hundreds of times per hour as their airways momentarily close, cutting off all oxygen. Frequently, apnea sufferers won’t even realize they are waking up during the night, often prolonging their choice to visit a doctor.

Though sleep apnea can be incredibly dangerous, it is also fairly easy to treat. One of the most frequent courses of treatment involves continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) which is provided in the form of a breathing mask.

A study released today by the New England Journal of Medicine goes one step farther, however, showing that CPAP treatment has the potential to reduce the signs of heart disease. The study, though limited in its scope, shows that use of a CPAP machine was able to significantly improve the symptoms of metabolic syndrome, an indicator of heart disease risk.

Common risk factors for metabolic syndrome are having extra weight around your midsection and having an insulin resistance, which causes blood sugar to rise. Other factors for the syndrome include hormone changes, lack of exercise and a genetic predisposition.  A combination of any three indicators is used to diagnose metabolic syndrome in adults.

Traditional recommendations for treating metabolic syndrome include losing weight, increasing exercise, beginning an aspirin regimen and lowering cholesterol and blood pressure.

The study looked at 86 patients with obstructive sleep apnea, 75 of which also had metabolic syndrome. After just three months of using a CPAP machine, blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and waist circumference all dropped in the test subjects.

In fact, after receiving CPAP eleven patients, or 13% of the study group, were no longer considered to have metabolic syndrome, compared to just one patient in the placebo group.

According to the study’s lead researcher, even short-term oxygen deprivation distresses the body and “causes the release of hormones that can cause cell damage that may lead to metabolic syndrome.” While doctors aren’t quite ready to say that CPAP treatment should be used to reverse heart disease, they do point out that obstructive sleep apnea is clearly a heart threat.

To learn more about metabolic syndrome or to be tested for this condition, schedule a consultation with our cardiologists today.

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