Snoring: An early sign of other health issues

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – Poets and entertainers have always found snoring to be an amusing irritant in our day-to-day lives.

For most of history, that noisy rattling and guttural racket seemed to go with the human condition, an unhappy and amusing accompaniment to romance, marriage, and trying to get a good night’s sleep.  

Current research indicates that view is changing.

Over time, snoring in a seemingly healthy adult may be a warning more serious conditions are likely beginning.

“If you are snoring with any regularity, it should be investigated,” says says Dr. John Suen, Medical Director of Sleep Disorders Center Florida.

“Snoring always indicates breathing and air flow is, to some extent, obstructed and has become more difficult, requiring more hard work for the body. Snoring is a bad sign,” he says.

In recent years the dangers of sleep apnea have become well known.

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines to prevent sleep apnea and the serious snoring that usually goes with it have become common at- home appliances.

The latest research reported earlier this month from the University of Pittsburgh and in the journal Sleep suggests all snoring is nothing to joke about.

Even snoring by itself, not associated with sleep apnea, appears to increase the risk of more serious conditions, including what is known as metabolic syndrome.

The University of Pittsburgh sleep researchers followed people’s sleep behavior, including snoring intensity and frequency and then investigated how their subjects’ health developed as years passed.

Over 800 research subjects between the ages of 45 and 74 were interviewed about their sleep habits.

Forty-five percent of the men and 30 percent of the women reported being habitual snorers.

After three years those who originally said they were loud snorers were almost three times as likely to report risk factors for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and the increasingly widespread condition known as metabolic syndrome compared to the quiet sleepers.

“This is the first prospective study to show that a broader array of commonly reported sleep symptoms, including sleep-disordered breathing symptoms, predict the development of metabolic syndrome, a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease,” said lead author Wendy M. Troxel, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pa.

A sleep professional for more than 18 years, Dr. Suen is board-certified in Sleep Medicine, Pulmonary Disease, Internal Medicine, and Critical Care Medicine and has offices in Port St. Lucie as well as Vero.

He outlines a complex group of bodily responses that can be connected to snoring.

Snoring can cause adrenaline to be released, he says. Adrenaline is a stress hormone and not conducive to sleep.

There are quite a few other causes for the irregular air flow.

“Alcohol or drugs can relax the muscles of the throat and create or increase the problem,” say Dr. Suen.

He also mentions obesity or even a more modest weight gain can add tissue that presses on the throat and increases snoring. Sleeping on your back can also result in the tongue dropping to the back of the mouth, affecting airflow.

“Airflow problems mean the body is getting less oxygen and that affects your phases of sleep. Your brain has to stay awake more to prevent you from possibly passing out. That affects how tired you feel the next day.”

Louder snoring in people who snore a lot has already been implicated in development of a major risk factor for strokes, carotid arteriosclerosis.

Sleep studies in the last two years have shown the loud, consistent snorers are an astonishing 10 times more likely to have the condition.

Medical researchers think all that loud snoring creates turbulence in carotid artery blood flow closest to the throat. They theorize this turbulence irritates blood cells that leads to plague buildup in the carotid arteries.

The new study reviewed in Sleep reported those who consistently snored and reported frequent restlessness as sleepers are 80 percent more likely to eventually suffer from metabolic syndrome.

During the three-year follow-up period, 14 percent of participants developed the condition.

Metabolic syndrome is a group of medical characteristics usually associated with obesity and lack of regular exercise.

According to the National Institutes of Health, having even three of these characteristics poses a significant health risk for diabetes and cardiac disease.

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