Silence the Sleep Apnea "Snorechestra" to Fight Heart Disease, From the Harvard Heart Letter

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The snorts, whistles, and gasps you make while sleeping may do more than rob you of a good night’s sleep.

In people with obstructive sleep apnea, the airway becomes blocked below the base of the tongue (A). A continuous positive airway pressure machine keeps the airway open by pushing air into the lungs via a mask over the nose and mouth (B)

The snorts, whistles, and gasps you make while sleeping may do more than rob you of a good night’s sleep. This "snorechestra" may be a sign of sleep apnea, which can lead to heart trouble and shorten life, reports the November 2008 issue of the Harvard Heart Letter.

People afflicted with sleep apnea temporarily stop breathing many times a night. In those with the most common kind, obstructive sleep apnea, the soft tissue of the palate or pharynx completely closes off the airway. The brain, sensing a drop in oxygen, sends an emergency “Breathe now!” signal that briefly wakens the sleeper and makes him or her gasp for air. This signal fires up the same stress hormones that go into overdrive when you are angry or frightened. They make the heart beat faster and boost blood pressure. They stoke inflammation, a key player in heart disease. They can damage blood vessels and increase the blood’s tendency to clot, a root cause of heart attack and stroke.

The Harvard Heart Letter notes that you don’t have to take sleep apnea lying down. Steps ranging from lifestyle changes to surgery can fight obstructive sleep apnea. Losing weight can make a big difference. Sleeping on your side and forgoing alcoholic drinks before sleeping may also help. For moderate or severe sleep apnea, most doctors recommend using a radio-sized machine that keeps the airway open by blowing pressurized air into the nose. Another option is a mouth guard that thrusts the jaw forward. Surgery may be an option, but usually isn't done unless other approaches don't work or aren't appropriate.

Also in this issue:

  •     Some types of seafood are better than others for the heart
  •     No-surgery valve repair not yet ready for prime time
  •     Living with long QT syndrome
  •     Losing weight by eating slower
  •     Is low blood pressure a problem?

The Harvard Heart Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $24 per year. Subscribe at http://www.health.harvard.edu/heart or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).

Media: Contact Raquel Schott at Raquel_Schott@hms.harvard.edu for a complimentary copy of the newsletter, or to receive our press releases directly.

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