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Heart Beat: Treating sleep apnea may pay off for the heart

Updated: September 01, 2009

Heart Beat

Treating sleep apnea may pay off for the heart

Sleep apnea — pauses in breathing during sleep that lead to explosive snoring or gasping for breath — is hard on the body. It causes daytime drowsiness, boosts blood pressure, and may even shorten life. Two studies suggest that sleep apnea can lead to heart rhythm problems, and that correcting the sleep problem may improve heart function.

In a sleep study that included nearly 3,000 older men, those with the most severe sleep apnea had the highest chances of showing a disturbed heart rhythm while they slept. Obstructive sleep apnea, which is caused by a temporary closing of the airway, was linked to rhythm problems in the ventricles. The less-common central sleep apnea, which occurs because the brain temporarily stops sending signals to the muscles that control breathing, was linked to atrial fibrillation (Archives of Internal Medicine, June 22, 2009).

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