A new study examined whether people who suffer from sleep apnea were prone to develop heart problems down the line.The study

The study looked at the two types of sleep apnea – obstructive and central.

Researchers followed a group of elderly men for a period of six and a half years and found that most of the men who had central sleep apnea later developed heart arrhythmia, or atrial fibrillation.

Dr. Reena Mehra, MD, MS of Cleveland Clinic was a lead investigator on the team that conducted the research.

Mehra said previous studies had looked for a relationship between obstructive sleep apnea and atrial fibrillation.

“In this study, we also sought to look at these relationships, and interestingly found that not so much obstructive sleep apnea, but rather a different kind of sleep apnea, called central sleep apnea, was associated with development of de novo atrial fibrillation,” said Dr. Mehra.Who is affected?

Central sleep apnea is caused when the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe and is less common than obstructive sleep apnea, which is caused by a physical obstruction of the airway.

Sleep apnea in general is also more common in men than in women. Diagnosis of sleep apnea tends to become more common as people age.Hope for the future

“These data support that central apnea appears to somehow be a marker of future development of this arrhythmia. Whether treating that sleep apnea reduces that risk of atrial fibrillation development remains to be seen,” said Dr. Mehra.

Dr. Mehra also noted that previous, but somewhat limited studies have shown a positive association between sleep apnea treatment and reducing the recurrence of abnormal heart rhythms associated with it.