London, March 17 (Reuters): People who suffer from an illness that disrupts their breathing while they sleep are more likely to suffer a fatal heart attack or stroke, Spanish researchers said.
But a simple treatment that regulates breathing during the night reduces the risk, they added in a study.
The problem ' severe obstructive sleep apnoea-hypopnoea ' is caused by a blockage that obstructs a person's airflow during sleep. It affects about 4 per cent of middle-aged men and 2 per cent of women. Sufferers can stop breathing during sleep for 10 seconds or longer.
'The results of this large, long-term study suggest that in untreated men the risk of fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular events is increased,' said Dr Jose Marin, of the University Hospital Miguel Servet in Zaragoza, Spain.
The standard treatment is known as nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) which delivers air into the airway through a face mask.
Marin and his colleagues compared the impact of the treatment on 377 snorers, 403 people with untreated severe disease, 372 others who had received CPAP and 264 health controls. Their findings are reported in The Lancet medical journal.