Sleep apnea is a disorder that can contribute to the development of hypertension and heart disease. Statistics show that about 15 to 20 million Americans have obstructive sleep apnea, but most of them remain undiagnosed and untreated.
The primary risk factor is obesity. Men are twice as likely as women to develop sleep apnea.
American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) said that a treatment called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is the best form of cure for adults with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea.
The results are published in the journal Sleep. Dr. Lawrence J. Epstein, AASM president, said that CPAP is the most effective, relatively noninvasive and usually well-tolerated therapy.
Epstein said that the treatment consists of a pressurized airflow through a mask that covers a patient's nose during sleep.
This prevents pauses in breathing and restores oxygen levels. It also improves self-reported daytime sleepiness in patients with sleep apnea and may improve their quality of life.
After the treatment patients express dramatic improvements in the sleep pattern. They are more alert, have more energy and are able to perform at higher levels for longer periods of time.
This new practice may allow the doctors to choose it as a strategy to lower blood pressure in hypertensive patients with sleep apnea.