Monday, April 11, 2011

Sleep Apnea Patients at Higher Risk for Aggressive Heart Disease

A recent study presented at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) yielded results that people who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are at a much higher risk for aggressive heart disease.  Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that is characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing or abnormally low (shallow) breathing during sleep.

According to Joseph Schoepf, M.D., professor of radiology and medicine and director of cardiovascular imaging at the Medical University of South Carolina, this new study “reveals that individuals with [OSA] are prone to developing an aggressive form of atherosclerosis” which puts these patients at “risk for impaired blood flow and cardiovascular events.”  Atherosclerosis is defined as a condition where fatty materials collect along the walls of arteries.  This fatty material then thickens and hardens, forming calcium deposits, and can eventually block arteries causing a heart attack or similar cardiovascular event.

OSA is a disease commonly associated with snoring because the person afflicted typically develops an obstruction in the upper airway during sleep that causes periodic pauses in breathing, which can last for longer than ten seconds at a time.  The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute estimates that millions of Americans suffer from OSA; the majority of them being overweight.

A total of 95 people were observed during this study.  49 people (26 men and 23 women) were obese OSA patients, at an average age of 61, and an average BMI (body mass index) of 33.  The other 46 (22 men and 24 women)  were obese patients without the disorder, with an average age of 60 and BMI of 30.  All patients underwent coronary CT angiography (cCTA), which provides doctors with detailed images and information regarding “plaque buildup and narrowing in the vessels.”

Although the imaging didn’t reveal a drastic change between the amounts of calcified plaque in the coronary arteries of the two control groups, there was a notable difference in the composition of vessel plaque.  “Compared to the non-OSA group, the patients with OSA had a significantly higher prevalence of non-calcified and mixed plaque,” said Dr. Schoepf.

Non-calcified plaque is known to be bad plaque because it is more vulnerable to causing blood clots and causing rupturing in the heart which could lead to a heart attack.  The OSA patients seemed to have a predisposition to vessel narrowing than patients without the disorder.  In fact, 88 % of the OSA patients contained narrowing in at least one vessel, whereas only 59% of patients without the disorder exhibited narrowed vessels.

Dr. Schoepf believes that this newly discovered correlation between sleep apnea, obesity, and aggressive heart failure, will aid in accurately diagnosing future patients.  This will be accomplished through the Coronary CT angiography, a machine used to produce images of plaque and vessel narrowing (as mentioned above).

Science Daily:  People With Sleep Apnea at Higher Risk for Aggressive Heart Disease

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