Cardiovascular disease is one of the most severe health consequences of sleep apnea. Untreated sleep apnea can significantly increase your risk of developing heart disease, being hospitalized for heart disease, being rehospitalized for heart disease, and, ultimately, dying of heart disease or stroke.
And as we’re coming to understand, the connections between sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease are complex and multifactorial. A new study has confirmed that obstructive sleep apnea can increase the levels of c-reactive protein in your body, independent of obesity , which means that sleep apnea, in and of itself, can clog your arteries.
What Is C-Reactive Protein?
C-reactive protein (CRP) is a protein found in the blood of people who have systemic inflammation. It’s recently become the preferred indicator of heart attack risk, taking over from cholesterol testing.
This is because it’s believed that inflammation plays a more serious role in heart attack than just cholesterol buildup.
The explanation is that inflammation of the arterial walls is what causes the arteries to close, choking off the blood supply and triggering a heart attack. Cholesterol still has a role to play, because it can enter the arteries, injure them, and trigger an immune response–the release of c-reactive proteins. The CRP then cause a complex reaction in the blood vessels that creates the tough arterial plaque deposits that are covered with a protein cap. These caps restrict blood flow and make the arteries susceptible to clogging with even a minor blood clot.
People normally only take a test for CRP if they have risk factors that can make it more likely that they will experience heart attack–and atrial fibrillation.
Sleep Apnea and CRP
There have been a number of studies looking at sleep apnea and CRP levels. However, researchers have not been happy with the quality of these studies. In particular, previous studies didn’t adequately account for the fact that obesity can contribute to elevated CRP levels, and obesity and sleep apnea are frequently associated.
That’s why this study was specifically designed to eliminate the effect of obesity on CRP levels. It focused on about 1800 men and women who were characterized according to their various body measurements, including BMI, waist to hip ratios, fat mass, and cholesterol levels, as well as sleep apnea severity. They then compared these variables with the CRP levels of each subject and found that severe sleep apnea made a person 1.6 times more likely to be in the highest category for CRP. Even mild sleep apnea had a 1.7 times higher risk of elevated CRP. And the effect was independent of obesity levels.
Sleep Apnea Treatment Can Reduce Your Inflammation
The implications of this study are clear: sleep apnea contributes to your risk of heart disease, whether or not you are obese.
Fortunately, you don’t have to accept this risk. Instead, you can combat it by getting treatment for your sleep apnea. This is part of the way that sleep apnea treatment can help you enjoy a healthier, happier, and, hopefully, longer life.