Sleep Apnea And Heart Conditions Could Be Deadly Combinations

Sleep Apnea And Heart Conditions Could Be Deadly Combinations »Play Video
SEATTLE - Think about this when you go to bed tonight: If you snore and have a heart condition, you may be sleeping on borrowed time.

For people with sleep apnea, it's a double whammy that could mean death.

One of the NFL's real tough guys, former defensive end Reggie White, died in his sleep 6 days before Christmas. He was only 43.

White suffered from Sleep Apnea -- a condition in which someone stops breathing temporarily. Snoring is often the first symptom.

Doctors think sleep apnea caused or worsened White's existing respiratory condition.

Sleep Apnea can be deadly, but the odds just got worse.

"Individuals with sleep apnea may be at a higher risk to die suddenly in their sleep from a heart attack," says Dr. Ralph Pascualy, Director of Swedish Sleep Medicine Institute.

A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine says patients with sleep apnea and a heart condition are at a higher risk of having a sudden heart attack in their sleep.

"My father passed away four years ago from a heart attack -- something to think about, " says John Wyatt.

He is doing something about his risk. He has sleep apnea and high blood pressure. He told me he's changing his eating habits and exercising more.

"I've got some young kids and I want to be around for several years - at least to bug them until they get to be adults," he said.

But Dr. Pasqualy says the best thing John did was finally listen to his family. He ignored his sleep apnea for 3 years until his doctor prescribed a breathing device.

"I sleep through the night, " says Wyatt.

An estimated 18 million people have sleep apnea, but Dr. Pascualy says too many of them ignore their family's concerns or assume snoring is harmless.

He hopes sufferers will wake up to the importance of treating sleep apnea.

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