Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is the most commonly reported sleep disorder, with loud snoring being one of the tell-tale signs of the condition. Here, the muscles of the throat relax during the night, blocking airflow.
OSA affects over a billion people worldwide, spiking their risk of being diagnosed with a suite of cardiovascular conditions: congestive heart failure, hypertension, and clogged arteries.
Now, a team of researchers from the Penn State College of Medicine has discovered a more deadly consequence of OSA.
In a study published in BMJ Open, the researchers reviewed sleep apnea studies of over 42,000 OSA patients worldwide. Their analyses revealed that individuals with OSA have a nearly twofold higher risk of sudden death and mortality from cardiovascular events compared with people without OSA.
“Patients with sleep apnea experience shallow or interrupted breathing, which disrupts their sleep,” commented the study’s lead investigator, Anna Ssentongo. “Our research shows this condition can be life-threatening."
The mechanism behind this increased risk of fatality is complex. One theory is that patients with OSA don’t get enough oxygen, leading to oxidative stress in their cells. Oxidative damage can have a cumulative effect, ultimately accelerating aging and contributing to the onset of chronic health problems.
According to experts, many patients don’t consider that an OSA diagnosis can have potentially life-threatening consequences. Therefore, the authors call for more accessible, cost-effective strategies to help better treat OSA and optimize patients’ chances of survival.
In follow-up studies, the team will take a closer look at the links between OSA and sudden death in populations not adequately represented in this study.