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Why Snorers Should Be Tested for Heart Disease

By Nancy Larson

Updated November 10, 2008

(LifeWire) - Chronic, heavy snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnea, a common condition in which breathing stops for more than 10 seconds at a time during sleep. It may also be a potential sign of heart problems. Sleep apnea (seen mostly in men) is widespread among those who have coronary artery disease (CAD).  Testing snorers could mean earlier CAD diagnoses for many people, which means their treatment could begin sooner.

A few studies are beginning to find direct connections between snoring and cardiovascular problems including carotid atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup in the carotid arteries.  A Swedish study, published in the 2008 Journal Sleep, showed heavy snorers have a greater chance of dying within a month after a first heart attack.

But many medical professionals are still trying to confirm whether sleep apnea really does cause or worsen cardiac concerns. The puzzle is complicated by the fact that most people with sleep apnea already have other conditions such as obesity, CAD and diabetes. It's not clear whether these conditions contribute to sleep apnea or if sleep apnea contributes to these symptoms -- or if it works both ways.

Stopping the Snoring

The most common type of sleep apnea -- obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) -- is due to a blockage in the throat, which results in a lack of oxygen. The obstruction can be caused by obesity, bone, soft tissue or tonsils and adenoids.

Several methods of treating OSA are the same recommendations given to all heart patients: Lose weight and avoid alcohol and cigarettes. Abstaining from sleep medications, sleeping on your side and using mouthpieces and breathing devices may also help with sleep apnea.

Two surgical procedures can eliminate the obstructions causing OSA:

  • Radiofrequency delivered through a needle to harden soft tissues
  • Laser surgery to trim the uvula and soft palette

Insurance coverage for these medical procedures is more likely if the patient enrolls in a medically supervised sleep study.

Here's more information on reducing your risk for heart disease.


"How Is Sleep Apnea Treated?." nhlbi.nih.gov. Feb. 2008. National Institutes of Health. 21 Oct. 2008. <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/SleepApnea/SleepApnea_Treatments.html>.

Janszky, Imre, et al. "Heavy Snoring Is a Risk Factor for Case Fatality and Poor Short-Term Prognosis After a First Acute Myocardial Infarction." Journal Sleep 31:6(2008): 801-07. 21 Oct. 2008. <http://www.journalsleep.org/ViewAbstract.aspx?citationid=3572>.

Lee, Sharon, et al. "Heavy Snoring as a Cause of Carotid Artery Atherosclerosis." Journal Sleep 31:6(2008): 1207-13. 21 Oct. 2008 <http://www.journalsleep.org/ViewAbstract.aspx?citationid=3654>.

"Link Between Heart Disease, Sleep Apnea Should Be Probed." americanheart.org. 28 Jul. 2008. American Heart Association. 21 Oct. 2008. <http://americanheart.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=43&item=476>.

"Snoring." nhlbi.nih.gov. Feb. 2008. National Institutes of Health. 21 Oct. 2008. <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/snoring.html>.

Somers, Virend, et al. "Sleep Apnea and Cardiovascular Disease." Circulation 118 (2008): 1080-111. 21 Oct. 2008. <http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/full/118/10/1080>.

"Treatments for Snoring." clevelandclinic.org. 2008. Cleveland Clinic. 29 Oct. 2008 <http://my.clevelandclinic.org/head_neck/patients/general_ear_nose_throat/snoring_treatments.aspx>

LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Nancy Larson is a St. Louis-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in dozens of local and national print and online publications including CNN.com, The Weather Channel, Health magazine and The Advocate.

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