We can add sudden cardiac death to the long list of possible sleep apnea consequences.

The study “Obstructive Sleep Apnea and the Risk of Sudden Cardiac Death: A Longitudinal Study of 10,701 Adults” published in the J Am Coll Cardiol 2013 was covered in a blog report from Michael J. Breus, PhD, summarizes the results of a large-scale study of more than 10,000 adults over a period of 15 years.

In addition to determining a “significantly increased” risk, the researchers found:

  • Over the 15-year follow up period, 142 people experienced sudden cardiac arrest. In some cases this was fatal, while others were resuscitated.
  • Researchers’ analysis found people with OSA were at significantly greater risk of sudden cardiac death.
  • The three strongest predictors of risk for sudden cardiac death were: being 60 years or older, having low blood oxygen levels, and having at least 20 episodes of apnea per hour.

According to the abstract published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology:

In a population of 10,701 adults referred for polysomnography, OSA predicted incident SCD, and the magnitude of risk was predicted by multiple parameters characterizing OSA severity.

Nocturnal hypoxemia, an important pathophysiological feature of OSA, strongly predicted SCD independently of well-established risk factors. These findings implicate OSA, a prevalent condition, as a novel risk factor for SCD.

Breus concludes that, “This study was the first one to establish a directly link between OSA and sudden cardiac death. The current research both confirms and also expands evidence of this connection. Neither of these studies established a cause-and-effect relationship between sleep apnea and sudden cardiac death. But they do indicate a strong association between the two.”