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A recent study, from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, has pointed out the increased risk of irregular heartbeat in men with sleep apnea.

In this study, it was found that patients who have obstructive sleep apnea, a common sleep-related disorder, have an increased risk of irregular heartbeat, based upon the severity of the sleep apnea. In the patients with the most severe degrees of sleep apnea, there was approximately a 43 percent increase in the risk of atrial fibrillation and complex ventricular arrhythmia.

The study, reported in the June 22, 2009, issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, added to a growing list of evidence that links cardiac disease and sleeping disorders.

One in 20 of the patients with severe sleep apnea had atrial fibrillation during sleep, and fully one in three had complex ventricular irregular beats. The reasons for this increased risk of irregular heartbeat were not clear. The authors suggested that the stress placed on the cardiac tissue itself by low levels of oxygen, as well as the tremendous variations in intrathoracic pressure that occur during sleep apnea, may all trigger the events. The authors concluded that the aggressive evaluation and treatment of such patients is warranted, and that treatment of sleep breathing disorders, when identified, could improve cardiac outcomes.

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