Heavy snorers are twice as likely to suffer a fatal stroke

The key findings of this new research were as follows:

  • A major study of more than 25,000 people found the risk of a fatal blood clot more than doubled if someone snored through the night.
  • They were also 80 per cent more likely to have heart disease
  • Heavy snorers are twice as likely to suffer a deadly stroke than those who spend their nights sleeping peacefully.

Young woman and her snoring boyfriend
A major study of more than 25,000 people found the risk of a fatal blood clot more than doubled if someone snored through the night. These alarming findings, published in the International Journal of Cardiology, suggest the dangers of heavy snoring are greater than previously thought.

Around three million people suffer with the snoring condition sleep apnoea, with at least one in four men and one in ten women affected. There are however, millions of other heavy snorers who go undiagnosed.

As sleep begins, the muscles in the airways relax. While this does not pose a problem for most people, in sleep apnoea it leads to breathing being shut off for at least ten seconds. Air vibrates against the soft tissue that stands in its way, causing the characteristic ‘rasping’ sound that snorers make.

Once the brain realises breathing has stopped, it sends out a signal for the airway muscles to contract again. This opens the airway and the sufferer normally wakes with a jolt. Scientists believe that the problem stems from the blood flow to the heart and the brain being affected by snoring causing constant interruptions to the breathing pattern.

In mild sleep apnoea, this can happen once every ten minutes. But in more severe cases, it means sleep can be disturbed every couple of minutes. The treatment for chronic sufferers usually involves sleeping with a mask that pumps air into the throat continuously throughout the night.

But tens of thousands of sufferers are thought to go untreated, and the latest study suggests that the dangers to the heart and brain are greater than doctors previously thought. Chronic sufferers are often diagnosed and treated but moderate to heavy sufferers were seen to be at most risk as they are often undiagnosed and unaware.

As a consequence, they are now often recommended to wear simple oral appliances – ‘stop snoring mouth guards’ that reposition the jaw slightly and prevent snoring in almost all cases.

Although scientists think that the problem stems from the blood flow to the heart and brain being affected by constant breathing interruptions, it may also be due to the fact that heart rate and blood pressure are repeatedly jolted out of their naturally lower state during deep sleep.

Strokes hit 150,000 people every year, with 30,000 of them being fatal. Only cancer and heart disease kill more people.

The researchers said: ‘Patients who snore heavily or suffer from sleep apnoea will be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and death’. These comments are endorsed by The British Heart Foundation, whose spokesperson added, ‘For many people, it is linked to risk factors for your heart, such as obesity.’

John Redfern