Study Finds Link between Sleep Apnea and Heart Health

Caucasian male with sleep apnea wears a CPAP machine mask in bed.

Cholesterol plays a critical role in increasing the risk of heart attack for people with sleep apnea, according to a recent study published in Science Translational Medicine. The research suggest that sleep apnea sufferers who take statins – drugs that lower cholesterol levels – may be at less risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke. 

The findings shed light on why people with sleep apnea are three times as likely to develop heart disease – one of the many life-threatening side effects of this common disorder. Doctors had previously attributed the heightened risk of hypertension and heart attack in sleep apnea patients to the labored cycle of breathing and choking that repeats as the upper airway constricts during sleep. In their study, researchers at Columbia University took a closer look at the cellular level of our blood vessels – which are the first to endure the rise and fall of oxygen that routinely affects sleep apnea patients.

Statin users had normal CD59 levels

Dr. Sanja Jelic and his team identified a protein known as CD59 in the blood vessel cell lining “that protects cells against injury is decreased in obstructive sleep apnea patients.” Without sufficient levels of this protein, the cells become damaged and die off, putting patients at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and heart attack.

Jelic found that participants in the study who were on statins all had normal levels of CD59. Because statins lower cholesterol levels, the medication allows more CD59 protein to remain on the cell membranes, thus protecting it from damage. The researchers believe that this action could be lowering inflammation in blood vessels that commonly leads to cardiovascular disease. 

“Statins might complement sleep apnea treatment and play a very important part in reducing cardiovascular risk in sleep apnea patients,” opines Dr. Klar Yaggi, a sleep and heart medicine doctor at Yale School of Medicine. However, he suggests that sleep apnea can adversely affect heart health due to the formation of blood clots caused by transient awakenings – which act like a jolt of adrenaline. 

Sleep specialists agree that while statins may help limit sleep apnea complications like heart disease, patients will still suffer the draining effects of interrupted sleep, which generally decreases quality of life and puts patients at risk for motor vehicle and workplace accidents.

Innovative sleep apnea treatments

Considering the long-term health risks associated with sleep apnea, most doctors recommend a combination of weight loss and lifestyle modifications to help alleviate the problem. In more severe cases, a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airways Pressure) machine may be necessary.

However, for mild to moderate cases of obstructive sleep apnea, many patients have found relief from snoring and other symptoms with a custom-made oral appliance. Similar to a mouth guard, an oral appliance is worn at night and works by adjusting the position of your jaw to open the airway.

Beginning sleep apnea therapy with an oral appliance starts with a trip to your dentist, who will take impressions of your teeth. The mouth guard is fine-tuned to fit comfortably and be worn throughout the night. Compliance rates are high because most patients find the devices convenient and effective.

Oral appliance therapy in Manhattan

If you snore badly or have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, Dr. David Blaustein offers sleep apnea treatment in his midtown Manhattan dental office. To learn more about oral appliance therapy, or to schedule a consultation, please call Chelsea Dental Aesthetics at 347-618-6544.

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