Obstructive sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of stroke in middle-aged and older adults, especially men, according to new results from a landmark study supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health. Overall, sleep apnea more than doubles the risk of stroke in men. Obstructive sleep apnea is a common disorder in which the upper airway is intermittently narrowed or blocked, disrupting sleep and breathing during sleep.
Researchers from the Sleep Heart Health Study (SHHS) report that the risk of stroke appears in men with mild sleep apnea and rises with the severity of sleep apnea. Men with moderate to severe sleep apnea were nearly three times more likely to have a stroke than men without sleep apnea or with mild sleep apnea. The risk from sleep apnea is independent of other risk factors such as weight, high blood pressure, race, smoking, and diabetes.
They also report for the first time a link between sleep apnea and increased risk of stroke in women. Obstructive Sleep Apnea Hypopnea and Incident Stroke: The Sleep Heart Health Study, was published online March 25 ahead of print in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
Stroke is the second leading cause of death worldwide. "Although scientists have uncovered several risk factors for stroke such as age, high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation, and diabetes there are still many cases in which the cause or contributing factors are unknown," noted NHLBI Acting Director Susan B. Shurin, M.D. "This is the largest study to date to link sleep apnea with an increased risk of stroke. The time is right for researchers to study whether treating sleep apnea could prevent or delay stroke in some individuals."
Conducted in nine medical centers across the United States, the SHHS is the largest and most comprehensive prospective, multi-center study on the risk of cardiovascular diseas
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NIH/National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute