From Sleep Apnea to High Blood Pressure

Sleep apnea in children linked to high blood pressure during adolescence

(RxWiki News) Kids who have obstructive sleep apnea face an increased risk of high blood pressure in their teen years, according to a new study.

Compared to children who never had sleep apnea, those who did were three times more likely to develop high blood pressure as teens, this study found.

The researchers behind this study said their findings highlight the seriousness of sleep apnea in children and how important early treatment can be.

“Because most cases of sleep apnea go undiagnosed in adults and children alike the problem needs more attention" said lead study author Dr. Julio Fernandez-Mendoza, an associate professor at the Sleep Research and Treatment Center at Penn State College of Medicine, in a press release. "Sleep apnea and its risk factors should be screened for, monitored, and targeted early in life to prevent future cardiovascular disease.”

People with sleep apnea repeatedly and briefly stop breathing while they are asleep. This condition primarily affects adults, but it occurs in an estimated 10 percent of children who are school-aged, according to this study.

High blood pressure — also called hypertension — can stress the cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of heart health problems like heart attack and stroke.

To conduct this study, researchers monitored 421 children between the ages of 5 and 12 overnight in a sleep lab. Around 12 percent of these children had sleep apnea. Eight years after the initial sleep monitoring, the study authors examined the same children for sleep apnea and high blood pressure.

For the children whose sleep apnea continued into their teen years, the risk of high blood pressure was three times higher than it was for those who never had sleep apnea, this study found.

The exact reason for the apparent link between childhood sleep apnea and teenage hypertension was not clear, these researchers said. They noted, however, that obesity is a known risk factor for sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea can be treated in both children and adults. Removal of the tonsils and using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine are two common sleep apnea treatment options.

Dr. Fernandez-Mendoza was conducting a follow-up study of the same children in this study to see the long-term impact childhood sleep apnea might have on heart health in adulthood.

If you or your child has sleep apnea or high blood pressure, speak to a health care provider about your treatment options.

This study was published in the journal JAMA Cardiology.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute funded this research. Information on potential conflicts of interest was not available at the time of publication.

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Review Date: 
July 5, 2021