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Sleep Apnea – CPAP Treatment helps Improve Heart Function

March 31st, 2006

Sleep Apnea – CPAP Treatment helps Improve Heart Function

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A recent study being published in the upcoming April 4th issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that patients with obstructive sleep apnea had improvements with the heart’s ability to pump blood when they used a CPAP machine during sleep.  Many patients with obstructive sleep apnea have enlarged and thickened heart abnormalities which reduce the amount of blood it can pump.

"Not only are the shape and size of the heart affected, the right side of the heart was dilated and the heart muscle on the left side was thicker in patients with obstructive sleep apnea, but the pump function was also reduced. The changes were directly related to the severity of the problem. Treating the problem brought significant improvements in the affected parameters, as well as in symptoms, in a relatively short period of time of six months," said Bharati Shivalkar, M.D., Ph.D. who is from the University Hospital Antwerp located in Antwerp, Belgium.


Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is caused by the throat closing up and either partially or completely blocking breathing during sleep.  It can cause a person to wake up gasping for air and also to have them not get a good night sleep.  Because a person with OSA may not get a good night sleep they are often tired during the daytime.

Many other health problems are being associated with sleep apnea including, high blood pressure and increase cardiovascular risks.  A person with sleep apnea is at a higher risk for a stroke, ischemia, arrhythmias and also sudden death.  There have also been other studies that are considering metabolic syndrome and diabetes type 2 being linked to sleep apnea.


In this study, there were 43 patients that had obstructive sleep apnea.  Of the 43 patients 32 were men and 11 were women.  These patients participated in a sleep study that measured their breathing and also measured the size and function of the heart.  The researchers wanted to see how the heart’s pumping ability would react differ with a patient before CPAP treatment and after they used the equipment.  As a control they had 40 participants that were healthy and did not show signs of sleep apnea participate in the sleep studies.

What the researchers found was the sleep apnea patients had enlarged hearts on the right side and also had thickened walls in the heart between the chambers where the heart pumps.  The researchers also discovered that the sleep apnea patients did not pump as much blood per beat and the motion of the wall of the heart was slower when compared to the control groups.  The sleep apnea patients had higher blood pressure and their hearts also beat faster than the control group.  The study showed patients with the worst the sleep apnea also had the most severe heart problems.


After the initial benchmark sleep tests were completed, the patients with sleep apnea were given continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines to sleep with for a six month time period.  The CPAP machine will keep the air passage way from closing by blowing air through a mask into a person when they are sleeping.  The CPAP is a common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.

At the end of the six months there were 25 patients that completed the study.  These patients were sleeping better at night, and were more alert during the day.  The patient’s hearts also had significant improvements too.  They improved on the size and shape as well as the hearts ability to pump blood.

"From a cardiovascular standpoint, OSA still remains an important under-diagnosed and under-treated problem. Our study highlights that the changes in the shape and function of the heart can be assessed quite easily in a non-invasive manner and can alert the physician of impending cardiac problems. Most importantly, treatment can cause substantial improvement in a relatively short time. We hope that this paper will contribute towards improved awareness of cardiovascular and general physicians of a fairly common problem in the western society," Dr. Shivalkar said.

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Nicole Wilson
Best Syndication

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