Snoring May Be Health Warning

sleep study disorder
CBS
Snoring has always been a nuisance for others.

But a new study shows it may cause serious health problems for the person doing the snoring, reports CBS News medical correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin.

If you've ever slept next to someone who snores, you probably consider it just a noisy nuisance.

But new research says it can actually be a warning.

Snoring is one of the main signs of sleep apnea — when people stop breathing in the middle of the night.

For the first time, this new study makes a crucial connection.

"It's given us the best evidence that we have that sleep apnea is a likely cause of stroke," says Dr. Varind Somers of the Mayo Clinic.

People suffering from sleep apnea, and there are millions, can stop breathing during sleep anywhere from thirty seconds to a minute and a half.

With oxygen in short supply, a healthy person during the day becomes a time bomb at night.

Normal blood pressure is 120 over 80. But a patient with sleep apnea can be deprived of 50 percent less oxygen — doubling blood pressure to a life-threatening 220 over 140.

A visit to New York University's sleep disorders clinic showed Raymond J. Vazquez often stopped breathing during sleep.

"That was definitely shocking," Vazquez says.

His doctor, sleep expert Ana Krieger, says he's lucky he came in. She believes the link between apnea and stroke is just the tip of the iceberg.

"This is definitely a new area and many of the cardiologists are very concerned about patients that have potential sleep apnea," says Dr. Krieger.

With heart disease our leading killer, Krieger says doctors are looking more closely at sleep's role in cardiac health.

So one of the key questions a good doctor will ask is, "How are you sleeping?"

There is still a lot of research to be done in this area. One of the big questions doctors will pursue now is: can preventing sleep apnea actually prevent heart attacks?

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com