NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 11, 2005

People who have the nightly episodes of breathlessness called obstructive sleep apnea are at least twice as likely to suffer strokes or die as steady breathers, according to a new report.

The study, which involved more than 1,000 patients, confirms a flurry of smaller studies suggesting that apnea increases a person's stroke risk as much as smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes.

To test whether these cycles can be linked to strokes, the researchers studied 1,022 patients who were referred to the Yale University sleep center with sleep problems. Of those, 697 patients were diagnosed with apnea; the rest served as controls. Researchers followed the patients for a year and a half. They found:

  • Those in the sleep apnea group had 22 strokes and 50 deaths, while those in the control group suffered two strokes and 14 deaths.
  • The worse a patient's sleep apnea, the higher his or her risk of stroke or death.
  • Patients with the most severe apnea were three times as likely to have a stroke or die as the controls.

A companion report by Canadian researchers yielded gloomy results for heart failure patients with apnea. It showed that oxygen failed to reduce their death rate.

One remedy does work, however. Studies have shown that losing 10 to 20 percent of a person's body weight can cut the severity of sleep apnea in half.

Source: Steve Sternberg, "Strokes are twice as likely in apnea patients," USA Today, November 10, 2005; based upon: H. Klar Yaggi et al., "Obstructive Sleep Apnea as a Risk Factor for Stroke and Death," New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 353, No. 19, November 10, 2005; and Virend K. Somers, "Sleep -- A New Cardiovascular Frontier," New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 353, No. 19, November 10, 2005.

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