New Study: OSA Patients with Daytime Sleepiness More Likely to Experience Heart Problems

A new study in the Dec. 1 issue of the journal SLEEP reports that patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a sleep related breathing disorder that causes the body to stop breathing during sleep, that experience daytime sleepiness could be at risk for cardiovascular problems.

The study, led by Joel E. Dimsdale, M.D., of the University of California, San Diego, focused on 86 patients with an average age of 47 years. All subjects were suspected of having OSA and submitted to a polysomnogram. Stroke volume and cardiac output were measured using impedance cardiography, while daytime sleepiness was quantified using the Epworth Sleepiness Scale.

The results showed that a higher Epworth Sleepiness Scale score, suggesting more daytime sleepiness, was independently associated with decreases in cardiac function.

"Patients with sleep apnea commonly complain of daytime sleepiness," said Dimsdale. "Sleep physicians have sensibly attributed this sleepiness to the massively disrupted sleep in apnea. However, our findings suggest a darker side to this sleepiness, as well. The cardiac function in these patients is subtly impaired, perhaps contributing to the perception of sleepiness and fatigue that is so disabling for these patients."

OSA occurs when the tissue in the back of the throat collapses and blocks the airway. This keeps air from getting into the lungs.

While the effects of OSA, including daytime sleepiness, alertness and concentration as well as increased risk of stroke, diabetes and heart disease, are real and severe, there are safe and effective treatments available for those who have OSA. Scientific evidence shows that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the best treatment for OSA. CPAP provides a steady stream of pressurized air to patients through a mask that they wear during sleep. This airflow keeps the airway open, preventing the pauses in breathing that characterize sleep apnea and restoring normal oxygen levels.

SLEEP is the official journal of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC, a joint venture of the American Academy of Sleep Medici and the Sleep Research Society.

This article originally appeared in the November 2006 issue of HME Business.

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