A Longterm Study
This study, published in the prestigious journal Circulation, looked at sleep apnea and cardiovascular problems in more than 750 men and nearly 900 women with moderate to severe sleep apnea, confirmed by polysomnography. They were also given tests of their high-sensitivity troponin T levels (hs-TnT), a predictor of heart stress. The study population was followed for an average of just under 14 years. For study participants who were still alive, echocardiograms were given after about 15 years to analyze the shape of their hearts.
Researchers found that in women, levels of hs-TnT were related to sleep apnea, as was an abnormal heart structure. They also found that for women, their ultimate cardiovascular outcome, such as heart failure or cardiac death, was associated with sleep apnea.
But these results didn’t hold up for men.
They noted that this underscores how important it is for women to get screened for sleep apnea.
Where Did the Risk for Men Go?
This study deviates from many previous studies that link heart disease with sleep apnea for men. But this doesn’t mean that men aren’t still at risk related to their sleep apnea. There are many reasons why this study might have shown no elevated risk for men. Most likely, it’s related to the fact that the heart risk for the “average” man of this age 62.5 already includes sleep apnea risk to some degree. Many men in this age group have sleep apnea and most of them are undiagnosed. It could be related to the many confounders, such as sleep apnea leading to weight gain and reduced exercise, both of which are related to heart risks.
Science is a process, and we expect some incidental disagreement among studies. The bulk of data still indicates that sleep apnea increases heart disease risk for men.