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Nov 18, 2013

Sleep Apnea Hinders Recovery After Heart Attack

Study finds sleep-disordered breathing impairs healing after a heart attack.

It’s well-established that sleep-related breathing disorders put extra stress on the body, increasing risk for heart disease. But according to a recent study published in the European Heart Journal, it may also hinder recovery after a heart attack.

Sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep-related breathing disorder, affecting more than 18 million Americans. When left untreated, it can have serious and life-shortening consequences such as high blood pressure, heart disease, strokediabetes and depression

German researchers conducted a study between 2009 and 2011 to assess the relationship between sleep-disordered breathing and heart attack recovery, which included a total of 56 heart attack patients. Participants were between the ages of 18 and 80 years and were treated with angioplasty (a procedure used to restore normal blood flow during a heart attack) within 24 hours of experiencing heart attack symptoms. Subjects completed a sleep study to identify any sleep-related breathing disorders and researchers used imaging technology to assess damage to the heart, resulting from the heart attack. Among the 56 study participants, roughly half were diagnosed with sleep-disordered breathing.

Unfortunately, researchers found that patients with sleep-related breathing disorders did not heal as well as those with “normal” breathing patterns. Although all patients had similar damage to the heart 3-5 days after their heart attack, patients with normal breathing patterns healed significantly better after three months compared to those with sleep-related breathing disorders.

This study is the first of its kind to assess the impact of sleep-disordered breathing on healing after a heart attack. When treating heart attack patients, it’s essential to minimize permanent damage and salvage as much healthy muscle as possible. Although further research is needed to better understand the relationship between sleep-disordered breathing and recovery after a heart attack, these findings discovered a possible barrier to recovery for heart attack patients. If sleep-disordered breathing does in fact hinder healing after a heart attack, treatment to improve breathing quality during sleep may be an important way to facilitate optimal recovery.

Sleep Apnea Facts

(Click to view infographic)

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is sleep-disordered breathing?
  • Sleep-disordered breathing describes a group of disorders characterized by involuntary breathing cessation during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of disorder and can increase risk for conditions such as high blood pressureheart disease and stroke.
  • Am I at risk for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)?

  • Obstructive sleep apnea is more likely to occur in men than in women. It is also becomes more common as you get older. Certain anatomical features also put you at risk for the condition such as having overly large tonsils or tongue, or naturally smaller air passages. Allergies that cause nasal congestion can also contribute to your risk. Half of the 12 million American adults who have OSA are overweight, but body fat appears to be less of a factor in people with heart failure.

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