NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Nearly two thirds of heart patients with implanted pacemakers have undiagnosed sleep apnea, a significantly higher prevalence than found in the general population, a study shows.
“Because of the excessive prevalence of undiagnosed sleep apnea we found, it could be recommended that all patients referred for a pacemaker should first be screened for sleep apnea,” Dr. Patrick Lévy, at Grenoble University in France advises in a written statement.
Even patients with pacemakers should be screened for sleep apnea, Lévy and colleagues advise, because untreated sleep apnea may further contribute to cardiovascular deterioration.
The authors report their findings in the rapid access issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, scheduled for print publication on April 3.
Sleep apnea is a breathing disorder characterized by frequent, short periods during sleep when breathing stops. An implantable pacemaker is a small device that uses electrical impulses to help regulate the beating of the heart.
Overnight sleep studies in 98 individuals with cardiac pacemakers revealed sleep apnea in 59 percent of patients. The condition was severe in about 21 percent of patients.
Lévy’s team notes that more than 70 percent of sleep respiratory events involved abnormally shallow breathing or slow respiratory rate (also called hypopneas). More than 75 percent of these events were classified as obstructive apneas in which soft tissue in the throat temporarily collapses during sleep causing a blockage.
The investigators also found that none of the patients had symptoms traditionally reported by patients with sleep apnea. As noted, they advise pacemaker patients be routinely checked for sleep apnea.
SOURCE: Circulation 2007.