A sleeping disorder may not seem like a big deal if you don't notice it. But untreated disorders can have a big impact on your health risks.
A recent study found that Asians with obstructive sleep apnea had a higher risk of death than patients without obstructive sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which a person periodically stops breathing or breathes too shallowly while asleep.
Patients with obstructive sleep apnea were more likely to die in a set period of time than patients without the condition.
Those with obstructive sleep apnea were also more likely to have a heart disease condition than those without the sleep disorder.
The study, led by Ji-Eun Lee, MD, of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at Chosun University Hospital in Korea, looked at whether the risk of death was increased among patients with obstructive sleep apnea.
The researchers studied 2,240 Korean patients who underwent a sleep study because they snored or had sleep apnea.
The patients were all at least 40 years old and had their sleep studied at some point between January 2003 and January 2009.
The researchers categorized the patients based on their score on the "apnea-hypopnea index," or AHI.
The score a person receives represents the number of times they stop breathing for at least 10 seconds or have a certain level of decrease in blood oxygen saturation for at least 10 seconds during one hour of sleep.
An AHI score of 5 to 15 means the adult has mild obstructive sleep apnea while a score of 15 to 30 is moderate and over 30 is severe.
The researchers then followed up with the patients to see how many had passed away by December 31, 2011. During this time, 3 percent of the patients died.
In doing their analysis, the researchers took into account the patients' age, sex, weight and medical history, including whether they had diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or a history of stroke.
The researchers found that patients with severe obstructive sleep apnea (an AHI of 30 or higher) were 2.5 times more likely to have died of any cause than patients with an AHI below 5.
Patients with severe obstructive sleep apnea were 4.7 times more likely to die from a heart-related condition than patients with an AHI below 5.
However, if the researchers left out patients who had heart disease at the start of the study, then the risk of dying from any cause was higher than dying from a heart-related condition for patients with severe obstructive sleep apnea.
The researchers concluded that the risk of death for patients with obstructive sleep apnea and heart disease was increased compared to those without the condition among Asians — just as it is with non-Asian patients in the West.
"This study offers additional information showing again the deleterious effects of sleep apnea," said William Kohler, MD, the medical director of the Florida Sleep Institute in Spring Hill, Florida.
"The bottom line, according to the authors, is that Asian people have similar abnormal results from sleep apnea as do people in the West and that effective treatment should be carried out for sleep problems, in this case, sleep apnea," he said.
The standard treatment for obstructive sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP.
CPAP involves wearing a mask while a person is asleep. The CPAP machine and mask pump air into the person's air passageways.
CPAP machines require a prescription and can cost anywhere from $150 to over $5,500, though most insurance plans will cover some or all of the expense. CPAP masks range from $30 to $200.
The study was published October 15 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. The research did not use external industry-supported funding. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.