Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine has received a $3.8 million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to study sleep apnea as a possible cause of atrial fibrillation (AF), the most commonly diagnosed type of arrhythmia, or irregular heart rhythm.
AF is characterized by an abnormally rapid heart rate that can inhibit blood flow, and raise the risk of stroke and heart failure. The five-year, NHLBI grant will enable researchers to study how sleep apnea, a treatable disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep, produces functional and structural changes in the heart that may well contribute to the development of AF.
"The new research will characterize what aspects of sleep apnea lead to AF, honing in on the effects of sleep apnea-induced changes to the structure of the heart, including increases in blood pressure and reductions in oxygen levels," says the study's principal investigator, Reena Mehra MD, MS, associate professor of medicine in the Department of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and a pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine physician at University Hospitals Case Medical Center. "The data generated from the research will fuel the development of new approaches for prevention and treatment of AF, and, will help identify key factors for future clinical trials," she says.
More fully identifying AF risk factors and developing new treatments is instrumental to stemming the growing rate of AF, a condition that could afflict up to 16 million individuals by the year 2050, according to research projections.
The growing prevalence of AF is not fully explained by known risk factors, such as age, existing heart disease and family history, highlighting the need to more precisely identifying potential novel AF triggers, Dr. Mehra explains.
Because sleep disorders like sleep apnea are common among patients with heart disease,
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Case Western Reserve University