Do you suffer from sleep apnea?  Taking steps to treat your condition may do more than just give you a better night's sleep.  New research shows that sleep apnea treatments may also help to lower your risk for heart disease.

Two new studies published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine have found that treating sleep apnea may help to control the factors - such as high blood pressure - that lead to an increased risk for heart disease.

Sleep apnea is a common condition in which the airway in constricted while a sufferer sleeps, causing repeated stops and starts in breathing. But the overall symptoms go beyond a poor night's sleep.  Studies suggest that sleep apnea can also stress the nervous system, raising blood pressure and causing inflammation in the arteries.  So it's no wonder that people with sleep apnea also appear to have a greater risk of heart attack and stroke. 

But two new studies have found that by taking steps to control sleep apnea, sufferers may also be able to improve their cardiovascular health.

In one study, sleep specialists from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston evaluated 318 adults with sleep apnea. The patients in the study also had heart disease or a high risk of developing it. Participants were broken up into three groups.  The first group used a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine at night to relieve the symptoms of sleep apnea.  The second group received oxygen while the third group got education on good sleep habits.  After 12 weeks, researchers noted that the patients in the CPAP group had blood pressure that was 2 to 3 points lower than their peers.

For the second study, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania looked at 181 obese patients with sleep apnea, randomly assigning them to six months of CPAP, weight-loss counseling or both. They found that while all three groups saw blood pressure declines by the end of the study, it was the group that utilized both weight-loss and CPAP that had the greatest success in protecting their hearts.

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