Breathing Better Helps Their Hearts

Elderly sleep apnea patients benefit from continuous positive airway pressure therapy

(RxWiki News) For many people, having sleep apnea just makes it hard to sleep. For many others it can lead to dangerous heart problems. Now, research shows that a certain treatment can lower the risk of heart-related death in some sleep apnea patients.

Elderly patients with really bad sleep apnea (trouble breathing during sleep) have a high risk of heart-related death. A treatment called continuous positive airway pressure can reduce this risk.

"Ask your doctor about sleep apnea therapy."

In continuous positive airway pressure therapy, pressurized air is pumped continuously through a mask that covers the nose and/or mouth of patients. This pressurized air keeps the airway shutting off.

The therapy has already been shown to help people with sleep apnea, says Miguel Angel Martinez-Garcia, M.D., from the Hospital General de Requena in Spain in Valencia, Spain and lead author of the study.

However, he points out, almost all of the past studies only looked at middle-aged people. This study is important because it looked at elderly people, a population that makes up a growing percentage of sleep apnea patients.

Because the study's findings show that continuous positive airway pressure therapy works for elderly patients, it should be a treatment that is offered to sleep apnea patients of all ages, says Dr. Martinez-Garcia.

He concludes that the effectiveness of continuous positive airway pressure should be further tested in larger, more in-depth trials.

The Study

  • Researchers studied 939 elderly patients who were thought to have sleep apnea
  • Participants were separated into four groups: those without sleep apnea; those with mild to moderate sleep apnea who were not treated with continuous positive airway pressure; those with severe sleep apnea who were not treated with continuous positive airway pressure; and those with any level of sleep apnea who were treated with continuous positive airway pressure
  • Researchers gathered complete health histories of all the participants
  • Mild to moderate sleep apnea that went untreated was not associated with an increased risk of death
  • Severe sleep apnea that went untreated was associated with an increased risk of heart-related and all-cause death, as well as stroke, and death from heart failure
  • Treating sleep apnea with continuous positive airway pressure reduced all of these increased risks of death 
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Review Date: 
May 16, 2011