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Questions and Answers About Sleep

New Study Shows Snoring a Top Predictor of Heart Attacks and Stroke

Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit presented findings from a study showing that snoring is a bigger risk factor for heart disease, including stroke and heart attacks, than being overweight, having high cholesterol, and even smoking.

The study, which was submitted to The Laryngoscope journal, and presented last month at the Triological Society Combined Sections Meeting in Scottsdale Arizona, is the first of its kind to show a link between snoring and heart disease, as are other risk factors, such as sleep apnea, obesity, smoking and high cholesterol.

Snorers had arterial damage

For the study, Dr. Robert Deeb, MD, and senior study author Karen Yaremchuk, MD, reviewed the data of 913 patients who had been evaluated by the Henry Ford sleep center between December 2006 and January 2012.

All of the patients were between the ages of 18 and 40, and none had been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

The researchers noticed that the carotid arteries — the arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the brain — had thickened among the snorers, indicating that arterial damage had occurred due to snoring.

While the researchers hypothesized that the thickening of the arterial walls could be due to the trauma and inflammation caused by snoring, previous research on sleep apnea and artery disease found the opposite: arterial damage comes first, reducing the oxygen level in the blood, leading to interruptions in breathing. The thickening of the arteries may also be contributing to the snoring in the patients.

While obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which often includes snoring as a symptom, has been known as an indicator of cardiovascular disease, there’s been little evidence until now that shows that arterial damage can begin with snoring.

What we can learn

Coronary artery disease (CAD), officially known as atherosclerosis, occurs when waxy plaque begins to line the inner walls of arteries. Over time, the arterial walls thicken and stiffen, restricting blood flow to the heart and/or brain. CAD is a common precursor to heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. The implication of the Henry Ford study is that snoring is also an indicator of a higher risk of developing CAD.

Drs. Deeb and Yaremchuk’s research is groundbreaking because artery blockage, and other forms of heart disease, is usually detected only after significant permanent damage has been done.

This new research is reason to treat snoring as a high risk indicator of heart disease, and should encourage snorers to visit the doctor to discuss cardiovascular health and stroke prevention.

The researchers also hope that doctors will add snoring to the list of coronary artery disease risk factors, along with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and family history. Paying attention to snoring as a risk factor could lead doctors to order tests sooner and help people get earlier diagnosis and treatment of carotid and coronary artery disease.

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