Sleep apnea tied to heart problems after surgery
Moderate and mild apnea cases still increase risks of cardiac events

A study suggests that post-surgery people are more likely to experience cardiovascular problems when they have the common breathing disorder sleep apnea – a condition where breathing stops and starts during sleep.

Compared to those without the disorder, people with severe cases of apnea were more than twice as likely to experience serious cardiac events (heart attacks, strokes, etc.) within a month of surgery. Past studies have suggested that sleep disorders increase risks for a number of cardiovascular disorders and metabolic problems, examples being:

  • clogged/hardened arteries
  • high blood pressure/hypertension
  • irregular heartbeat
  • stroke
  • high cholesterol
  • obesity
  • diabetes
Sleep studies

Researchers did sleep studies for more than 1,200 people prior to surgeries for conditions unrelated to heart disease. None of the participants had apnea, but two-thirds of them were found to have the disorder based on the results.

“In patients with severe obstructive sleep apnea, there are repeated episodes of complete or partial airway obstruction during sleep,” said lead study author Dr. Matthew Chan of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, “Patients having surgery are particularly vulnerable because the surgery and anesthetics are likely to worsen airway obstruction.”

Apnea by the numbers

Just about more than 1 in 10 participants had severe apnea, with breathing conditions disrupted more than 30 times a night. About 19% of participants had moderate apnea, with conditions disrupted at least 15 times, while 37% had mild apnea at no more than five episodes a night.

Moderate and mild apnea also looked to increase the risk of cardiac events post-surgery, but it was too small to to rule the possibility it was due to chance; the patients with mild an moderate apnea were typically overweight – those with severe cases tended to be obese.

Going forward

The results still suggest that identifying people with undiagnosed apnea pre-surgery may help lower their risk of cardiac events, according to an editorial accompanying the study.

“That’s because the recurrent episodes of low oxygen levels that happen with sleep apnea are associated with increased blood pressure and heart rate and place significant stress on the cardiovascular system”, said Dr. Dennis Auckley of Case Western Reserve University and MetroHealth Medical Center in Ohio, the editorial’s author.

Story from Reuters.

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