To coincide with today's World Sleep Day, ResMed, an innovator and pioneer in developing solutions for treating sleep-disordered breathing and other respiratory conditions, highlights its pick for the top five research discoveries about sleep apnea from the past year. Together, they paint an alarming picture: sleep apnea is on the rise and linked to sudden cardiac death, slower recovery from heart attacks, cancer, and high blood pressure.

1. Sleep apnea is linked to higher rates of cancer
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) deprives the body of oxygen (also known as hypoxia), which may lead to higher rates of cancer in patients under the age of 65. OSA occurs when the throat relaxes during sleep and blocks the airway, causing a person to snore and/or stop breathing until the brain triggers a wake-up response and the body struggles to gasp for air.
[Association between Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Cancer Incidence in a large multicenter Spanish Cohort (Campos-Rodriguez et al., 2013 Am J of Respir Crit Care Med)]

2. Sleep apnea increases risk of sudden cardiac death
"Oxygen is our fuel and without it we cease to exist," said Jeff Armitstead, Ph.D., ResMed-Asia Pacific's vice president of Medical Affairs. "Something like sleep apnea which reduces our oxygen supply and is directly associated with things like sudden cardiac death must be taken very seriously."
 [Obstructive sleep apnea and the risk of sudden cardiac death: A longitudinal study of 10,701 adults. (Gami et al., 2013 J Am Coll Cardiol.)]

3. Untreated sleep apnea slows recovery from heart attacks
"This research is startling because it reveals that if you suffer from untreated sleep apnea and have a heart attack, your heart will not heal like a person's heart without sleep apnea," said Armitstead. 
 [Impact of sleep-disordered breathing on myocardial salvage and infarct size in patients with acute myocardial infarction. (Buchner et al., 2013 Eur Heart J.)]

4: Treatment for sleep apnea can reduce blood pressure
Treatment of sleep apnea with continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) therapy reduces blood pressure in sleep apnea patients. Widely accepted as the gold standard, CPAP therapy involves wearing a mask or nasal pillows system connected to a small portable airflow generator that delivers air at positive pressure, creating an air splint to keep the airway open.
[Effect of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) on blood pressure in patients with obstructive sleep apnea/hypopnea. A systematic review and meta-analysis. (Fava et al., 2013 Chest)]

5: Sleep apnea is increasing among men and women — up to 1 in 4 adults
The latest data on the prevalence of sleep apnea in adults shows that the rates have gone up substantially over the last two decades. Among adults 30-70 years of age, it is estimated that 13 percent of men and 6 percent of women have moderate to severe sleep apnea, compared to the earlier results (9 percent of men and 4 percent of women). In addition, the number of those with at least mild sleep apnea has jumped for both men (26 to 34 percent) and women (13 to 17 percent).
[Increased Prevalence of Sleep-Disordered Breathing in Adults. (Peppard et al., 2013 Am J Epidemiol.)]

Together, the research findings demonstrate that untreated, sleep apnea can severely affect quality of life, health, and mortality. Sleep apnea continues to be strongly linked to a long list of life-threatening, chronic diseases such as cancer, stroke, heart failure, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and coronary heart disease as these and other studies continue to reveal. Untreated sleep apnea also has an association with depression, especially in women, and daytime drowsiness which increases the risk of accidents in the workplace and while driving.

Education remains a key obstacle to effective treatment. Studies indicate that in the Asia Pacific region, as many as 95 percent of people who have sleep apnea remain undiagnosed and untreated.

"Today, getting tested and treated for sleep apnea is easier than ever," said Armitstead. "With the latest therapy, patients can not only get more sleep, they can get better sleep, and that means better health."

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