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Posted: March 18, 2008

Why Loud Snoring Can Lead to Heart Disease, Stroke

Snoring, generally not much more than an annoyance for anyone within earshot, can be much more serious after new research linked loud snoring to heart disease and stroke.

The new findings, published in the journal Sleep, concluded that heavy snorers were significantly more likely to have a heart attack or stroke compared to the rest of the population. More than 12,000 patients were studied by Hungarian scientists in reaching the conclusion.

According to the published report, when compared to the rest of the population, loud snorers had a 34% increased risk of having a heart attack and a 67% greater chance of suffering a stroke. In addition, 40% were at greater risk of suffering from hypertension, or high blood pressure.

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The study, co-authored by Dr. Marta Novak of the Institute of Behavioral Sciences at Semmelweis University in Budapest, concluded that by focusing on those who snore loudly with breathing pauses, those at highest risk of these diseases could more readily be identified. Quiet snorers were not found to be at risk.

"Our findings suggest that loud snoring with breathing pauses carries a significantly increased risk for cardiovascular disease and is close to obstructive sleep apnea syndrome on the spectrum of sleep disordered breathing, therefore this simple question may identify high risk individuals whom may benefit from a sleep study," said Dr. Istvan Mucsi, of Semmelweis University and a member of the faculty at the University of Toronto in Canada, who co-authored the study.

Snoring is a sound made in the upper airway of your throat as you sleep. It normally occurs as you breathe in air and is a sign that your airway is being partially blocked.

About one half of all people who snore loudly have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA happens when the tissue in the back of the throat collapses to block the entire airway. This keeps air from getting in to the lungs. It occurs because the muscles inside the throat relax as you sleep. Gravity then causes the tongue to fall back and block the airway. It can happen a few times a night or several hundred times per night.

Light snoring may not disrupt the overall quality of sleep, but many people with severe snoring and OSA are sleepy during the day. They find that they are still tired even after a nap.

Almost everyone is likely to snore at one time or another. It has been found in all age groups, but estimates of snoring vary widely based on how it is defined.

Habitual snoring has been found in about 24% of adult women and 40% of adult men. Both men and women are more likely to snore as they age. Men, however, become less likely to snore after the age of 70.

Snoring is more common in people who are overweight because there is a greater amount of fat in the back of the throat that vibrates as they sleep. Nasal obstruction raises the risk of snoring.

Snoring also appears to run in families, but the likelihood of snoring can also increase with drinking alcohol, using muscle relaxers, using drugs, and smoking.

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