(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.
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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>.
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