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Researchers find possible link between childhood sleep disorder, heart disease

November 26th, 2007

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David Gozal

Children who snore and breathe irregularly while they sleep may be at risk for developing cardiovascular disease, according to researchers at the University of Louisville in Circulation, Journal of the American Heart Association.

A team under the direction of David Gozal, director of the Kosair Children’s Hospital Research Insitute and chief of pediatric sleep medicine at UofL, found that obstructive sleep apnea could harm blood vessels, but that treating OSA in a timely fashion could help prevent future heart disease in some children.

“Scientists have long associated blood pressure and sleep apnea but no one had determined whether the actual blood vessels are sick,” Gozal said. “We found that the blood vessels themselves are affected by sleep apnea, beginning in childhood.”

The researchers used a blood pressure cuff to obstruct blood flow in the arms of non-obese children with and without sleep apnea and used a laser doppler sensor to measure how quickly the blood vessels refilled. They also studied the children’s blood chemistry, looking for signs of inflammation associated with blood vessel disease. The blood vessels of all the children with obstructive sleep apnea were unhealthy.

Physicians surgically removed the adenoids and tonsils of the patients with sleep apnea to ease their OSA. Researchers repeated the tests four to six months later. Those tests showed that blood flow had improved and signs of inflammation had decreased overall, except in children with strong family histories of heart disease.

According to Gozal, the researchers need to further explore the implications for the health of children who did not improve with treatment, evaluate the impact of obesity, study the long-term effectiveness of surgery and evaluate other treatments.

OSA is a common condition that affects up to 3 percent of children who have not reached puberty.

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