Obstructive sleep apnea significantly increases the risk of stroke

An observational study of more than 1,000 patients at the Yale Center for Sleep Medicine found that obstructive sleep apnea significantly increases the risk of stroke or death from any cause, and that the risk is linked to sleep apnea severity.

The researchers found the increased risk to be independent of other factors, including hypertension. Participants were over age 50 without a history of heart attack or stroke at the start of the study. They were followed for an average of just under 3.5 years. The report cites support from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the Yale Center for Sleep Medicine, and the Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Service.

"Obstructive Sleep Apnea as a Risk Factor for Stroke and Death," and an accompanying editorial, "Sleep – A New Cardiovascular Frontier," by NHLBI grantee Virend K. Somers, M.D., Ph.D., will be published in the November 10 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Carl E. Hunt, M.D., director of the NHLBI's National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, is available to comment on the study's findings and to discuss the signs and symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, and the importance of diagnosing and treating the sleep-related breathing disorder. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea has been shown to increase the chance of cardiovascular disease and associated risk factors – including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes -- as well as injuries or deaths from work-related accidents and vehicular crashes. NHLBI is currently supporting several large studies which follow participants over longer periods of time to confirm the longitudinal relationship between sleep apnea and stroke and associated risk factors.

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