Heavy snorers are twice as likely to suffer fatal strokes

New research from the Institute of Cardiology based on 25,000 people states emphatically that snorers are 80 percent more likely to suffer some form of heart disease, and are twice as likely to suffer a fatal stroke due to a blood clot than those who sleep peacefully.

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These alarming findings, published in the International Journal of Cardiology, suggest thedangers 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, although this probably understates the problem, as most cases 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 that 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.

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. Treatment can involve sleeping with a mask that pumps air into the throat, but this is often found difficult by sufferers and rejected in favour of the popular and effective alternative, wearing a mouthpiece or splint, which keeps the air passage open when asleep. Similar to a gum shield that is worn in games like rugby, this method is now medically recommended, and better products are NHS approved

But, as previously said, tens of thousands of sufferers are thought to go untreated, and this latest study suggests that the dangers to the heart and brain are greater than doctors thought. Scientists came up with their findings after pooling data from 12 earlier studies that had been done.

The results showed that strokes were twice as likely in heavy snorers, but mild snorers faced little or no increased risk.

Scientists think that the problem stems from the blood flow to the heart and brain being affected by constant breathing interruptions, but 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 being fatal. Only cancer and heart disease kill more people.

The researchers said: ‘Patients with sleep apnoea who snore heavily will be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and death.’

So if you think you may have the condition, have a chat to your doctor and take steps to stop snoring immediately with an approved product that has a high proven success rate.

For many people, it is linked to other risk factors for the heart, such as obesity, so it’s likely your doctor will help you think about lifestyle changes to improve the condition, such as making sure you take regular exercise and examine what you regularly eat or drink.

By John Redfern

JR/END/564/08.12.13