Researchers have linked severe obstructive sleep apnea to increased risk of subclinical myocardial injury - an early sign of heart damage.
This is according to a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
According to the researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, previous studies have shown obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) - interrupted breathing during sleep - to be linked with increased prevalence of cardiovascular disease.
But they note that this is the first study to independently link OSA severity to early heart damage that could potentially cause heart disease and failure.
To reach their findings, the research team analyzed 1,645 participants who were middle aged and older from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities and the Sleep Health Study. All participants were free of heart disease and heart failure at the baseline of the study.
While at home, the participants underwent one overnight polysomnography - a test that monitors a person's sleep patterns. Using a respiratory disturbance index, the researchers categorized the patients' severity of OSA as none, mild, moderate or severe.
Participants also had blood samples taken, and they were followed-up for a median of 21.4 years. During this time, there were 222 deaths, 212 patients experienced coronary heart disease events, and 122 participants experienced heart failure.
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