A new study has indicated that people with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), carry an elevated risk of developing heart disease due to more non-calcified plaque in their coronary arteries.
"Our study reveals that individuals with obstructive sleep apnea are prone to developing an aggressive form of atherosclerosis that puts them at risk for impaired blood flow and cardiovascular events," said U. Joseph Schoepf, director of cardiovascular imaging at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, S.C.
OSA is caused by obstruction of the upper airway during sleep and is characterized by periodic pauses in breathing, which last for 10 or more seconds. OSA is also commonly associated with snoring.
In the study, 49 obese patients, mean age 61, with OSA and a mean body mass index of 33, and 46 obese patients without the disorder underwent coronary CT angiography (cCTA), which provides detailed pictures and information on plaque buildup and narrowing in the vessels.
The OSA group included 26 men and 23 women, and the matched control group included 22 men and 24 women.
The imaging revealed that the amount of calcified plaque in the coronary arteries was not significantly different between the two groups, but the overall composition of vessel plaque was notably different.
"Compared to the non-OSA group, the patients with OSA had a significantly higher prevalence of non-calcified and mixed plaque," Schoepf said.
Non-calcified plaque is considered bad plaque, because it is more vulnerable to rupturing and causing a blood clot, which could lead to a heart attack or other cardiovascular event.
The study was presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).