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HealthWatch: New Study Sheds Light On Sleep Apnea

Health Watch

CBS New York (con't)

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For some people, no amount of shut-eye seems to add up to a good night’s sleep, but as CBS 2’s Dr. Holly Phillips reports, it may be more than a matter of fatigue.

Sleep apnea is a condition that causes people to stop breathing while they sleep, when the airways collapse and oxygen can’t reach the lungs. The brain forces the patient awake and breathing starts up.

Now, a new study shows a link between severe sleep apnea and heart disease in middle age and older men.

“The whole body suffers damage because of the lack of oxygen,” said Dr. Ana Krieger of the Weill Cornell Center for Sleep Medicine.

The condition is usually diagnosed by having patients spend the night at a sleep lab under continuous monitoring.

Patient Stephen Allen, 60, was diagnosed with sleep apnea. For years, his wife complained about his snoring.

“I would find myself gasping for breath, waking up at night,” said Allen.

It’s not surprising that Allen had the condition. Those 40 to 70 years old had a 68 percent higher risk of developing heart problems. Also, only 9 percent of women suffer from sleep apnea compared to 25 percent of men.

Researchers did not find the same links to heart problems in women, leading them to believe the cardiac connection appears only to affect men.

“Female hormones protect the development of cardiovascular disease in women so they may delay the onset of heart disease,” said Krieger.

That only lasts until menopause. Afterwards, women with sleep apnea may face similar risks to men.

Meanwhile, Allen is being treated with a c-pap machine, which is a device that forces air into his body while he sleeps.

It also reduces the stress on his heart, which is particularly important for him because he already has a history of heart problems.

In addition to snoring, other symptoms of sleep apnea could include gasping or choking while you sleep and waking up with a headache.