Using CPAP machines could save loud snorers from heart disease-related deaths

MILAN, Italy — Want to stop snoring and help your heart at the same time? European researchers suggest that people suffering from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) could lower their chances of dying from heart-related conditions if they use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine at night.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition where an individual’s breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. Symptoms often include loud snoring and waking up frequently during the night. Not only can OSA lead to fatigue, but it can also elevate the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes.

CPAP machines are typically recommended for OSA patients to enhance their sleep quality. The device works by pumping air through a mask worn by the user, keeping their airways open throughout the night.

Dr. Jordi de Batlle, a researcher from Institut de Recerca Biomèdica de Lleida in Spain, showcased a study that tracked 3,638 OSA patients in Catalonia who had stopped using their CPAP machines in 2011. These were compared to an equivalent number of OSA patients who continued with their CPAP treatment. The findings revealed that those who persisted in using CPAP had a 40 percent reduced risk of death from any cause, a 36 percent reduced risk of death from heart conditions, and an 18 percent decreased likelihood of hospitalization due to heart-related issues.

“Our results suggest that CPAP treatment can help most OSA patients by preventing cardiovascular problems such as heart disease and stroke,” says Dr. de Batlle in a media release. “This is a plus, as CPAP treatment already helps most OSA patients by reducing sleepiness and improving their quality of life. Based on these findings, we should encourage people with OSA to keep using their CPAP machines.”

CPAP breathing sleep COVID-19
CPAP treatment, which is often used at home to help people with sleep problems, helps to keep the lungs open and makes breathing easier. (Credit: Lancaster University)

A pilot study led by Dr. Cliona O’Donnell from St. Vincent’s University Hospital and University College Dublin explored the efficacy of CPAP in comparison to a weight loss drug called liraglutide. The study, although preliminary, indicated that patients treated with CPAP displayed reductions in arterial plaque build-up and inflammation in their main artery.

“Continuous positive airway pressure works by keeping patients’ airways open while they sleep. This stops fluctuations in oxygen levels in the blood that can exacerbate cardiovascular disease,” says Dr. O’Donnell. “Although this is a pilot study, meaning we cannot draw firm conclusions, we found improvements in some early signs of cardiovascular disease with CPAP treatment. This should now be further evaluated in larger studies.”

“We know that people with obstructive sleep apnea are at a higher risk of cardiovascular problems, but there are conflicting data on the effects of CPAP on reducing this risk,” notes Sophia Schiza, a professor and secretary of the European Respiratory Society’s group on sleep-disordered breathing.

“However, research using real world data is showing that CPAP adherence is one of the key predictors for reducing cardiovascular risk and for better outcomes in general. Here we have two studies: one large study showing that CPAP could help lower the risk of developing or dying from cardiovascular disease in people suffering with OSA and another small study suggesting that CPAP could be more beneficial than weight-loss therapy for people suffering from OSA.”

The research was presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress in Milan, Italy.

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