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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 03/09/98
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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UC Physician Finds Apnea Dangerous for Heart Failure Patients

CincinnatióResearchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine, and the Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center say that a simple blood test may help predict which heart patients are at higher risk of a common sleeping disorder called central apnea and sudden heart death. A blood test that detects abnormally low blood levels of carbon dioxide helps physicians determine which heart failure patients are most likely to suffer apnea so they can receive preventive drugs and treatment. According to Shahrokah Javaheri, MD, professor of medicine, UC College of Medicine, and director of the Cincinnati VA Medical Center Sleep Disorders Laboratory, "If you have ever been a heart failure patient, while you are sleeping, you may experience sleep apnea and a life-threatening condition called ventricular tachycardia." With ventricular tachycardia, the heart beats faster and faster and if untreated, sudden cardiac death occurs.

In the February 1 edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine, principal author Javaheri reports on his most recent research findings. In a study of 59 heart failure patients, "Forty-five percent of heart failure survivors have central sleep apnea," says Javaheri. Central apnea is a cessation of breathing for at least ten seconds at a time during sleep and can become a serious, life-threatening condition for patients with chronic heart failure. "A person with apnea may fail to breathe as many as 26 to 100 times per hour while sleeping. This lack of breathing results in low oxygen blood levels, and in severe heart failure patients, the lack of oxygen eventually may disrupt normal heart function," says Javaheri. The apnea also disrupts sleep by causing the person to awaken repeatedly.

"Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans," Javaheri says, "but this blood test helps to predict which heart failure patients are most at risk, so that we can help manage their apnea with treatment." Drug treatments reduce the number of periodic breathing disruptions so that the patient maintains steadier oxygen levels. Javaheri says, "If a simple blood test can target the high-risk heart patients who are most likely to benefit from appropriate apnea treatment, lives can be saved." W.S. Corbett, a research assistant who worked at the VA Medical Center, assisted Javaheri with this study.

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