For patients with mild sleep apnea, the risk of death was not significant and could not be directly tied to the condition, the researchers note.
"Our findings ... remove any reasonable doubt that sleep apnea is a fatal disease," Marshall said. "People who have, or suspect that they have, sleep apnea should consult their physicians about diagnosis and treatment options."
Dr. David M. Claman, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the University of California, San Francisco, believes this study strengthens the conclusion that severe obstructive sleep apnea does contribute to cardiovascular illness and death.
"This Australian data has additional strengths in that it is a population-based prospective sample with a long period of follow-up," Claman said.
However, the researchers could not assess whether there were any beneficial effects of a common apnea treatment called Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, Claman said. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) treatment blows air into a person's nose to keep the airway from collapsing.
"Further work is needed to see if mild obstructive sleep apnea is associated with adverse effects and if Continuous Positive Airway Pressure treatment reduces cardiovascular risk in larger populations," he said.
In another report in the same issue of the journal, researchers from the University of Wisconsin uncovered findings similar to those in Australia.
In the Wisconsin study, researchers found severe sleep apnea was associated with a threefold increased risk of dying. In addition, for those with moderate to mild sleep apnea, the risk of death was increased 50 percent compared with people without sleep apnea. However, this increased risk was not statistically significant, the researchers report.
"Our findings of significant mortality risk with untreated sleep disordered breathing, in conjunction with prior evidence that Con
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