Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder characterized by interruptions in breathing during sleep.
It occurs when the muscles at the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open, leading to brief periods of shallow or paused breathing that can last from a few seconds to minutes.
These breathing pauses can happen repeatedly throughout the night, disrupting the quality of sleep and leading to daytime fatigue and other health problems.
There are two main types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA).
OSA is the more common type and is caused by a physical blockage in the airway, while CSA is caused by a lack of communication between the brain and the muscles that control breathing.
Common symptoms of sleep apnea include loud snoring, gasping or choking during sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, headaches, difficulty concentrating, and irritability.
If left untreated, sleep apnea can increase the risk of serious health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
In a new study from Columbia University, researchers found that cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins may help reduce heart disease in people with OSA, regardless of the use of CPAP machines during the night.
CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy improves sleep quality and reduces daytime fatigue in people with obstructive sleep apnea.
But based on findings from recent clinical studies, CPAP does not improve heart health as doctors originally hoped.
Alternative methods to reduce heart disease in sleep apnea patients are urgently needed because the condition is known to triple the risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or another serious cardiovascular event.
In the new study, researchers found statins (a class of cholesterol-lowering drugs) may be one such method.
Currently, statins are prescribed for only 8% to 13% of patients with obstructive sleep apnea.
The team tested 87 people with recently diagnosed obstructive sleep apnea who were being treated with CPAP. The people were randomized to receive treatment with either statins or a placebo.
The researchers found that statins, but not CPAP, protected blood vessels against dangerous inflammatory changes that occur in people with the condition.
The researchers looked specifically at the CD59 protein, which keeps inflammation in check when stabilized in the blood vessels.
A previous study showed that CD59, which protects cells against complement (a group of proteins that promote inflammation) activity, is more stable when cholesterol is low.
The team found among study participants, CD59 was stabilized after four weeks of cholesterol-lowering statin therapy, but not with CPAP alone.
The effect of statins is important because Inflammation in the blood vessels is a key step in the progression of cardiovascular disease,
So anything that doctors can do to stabilize CD59 in these patients is likely to be beneficial for heart health.
The researchers also found that CPAP, surprisingly, increases levels of another protein associated with inflammation and heart disease.
In the study, statins lowered this protein level in patients with obstructive sleep apnea.
The team says they still believe CPAP is very useful since it improves sleep and reduces daytime fatigue.
But CPAP also seems to have negative effects on the heart.
Doctors need to see whether they should use more conservative airway pressures or other less-utilized treatments like oral appliances to treat patients with obstructive sleep apnea.
Before physicians consider using statins to prevent heart disease in their sleep apnea patients, however, clinical trials are needed to confirm that patients using statins will have fewer heart attacks and strokes in the long term.
The team says it’s important to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and to determine the best treatment plan for your individual needs.
If you care about sleep, please read studies that common noise may help you sleep better, and new jaw surgery may help treat sleep apnea.
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The study was conducted by Sanja Jelic et al and published in the journal Annals of the American Thoracic Society.
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