European Respiratory Society

Sleep apnoea as an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease: current evidence, basic mechanisms and research priorities

W. T. McNicholas, M. R. Bonsignore, the Management Committee of EU COST ACTION B26


Considerable evidence is available in support of an independent association between obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome (OSAS) and cardiovascular disease, which is particularly strong for systemic arterial hypertension and growing for ischaemic heart disease, stroke, heart failure, atrial fibrillation and cardiac sudden death.

The pathogenesis of cardiovascular disease in OSAS is not completely understood but likely to be multifactorial, involving a diverse range of mechanisms including sympathetic nervous system overactivity, selective activation of inflammatory molecular pathways, endothelial dysfunction, abnormal coagulation and metabolic dysregulation, the latter particularly involving insulin resistance and disordered lipid metabolism.

The present report, which arose out of a European Union Cooperation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research (COST) action on OSAS (COST B26), reviews the current evidence for an independent association and proposes research priorities to identify the underlying mechanisms involved, with a view to identifying novel therapeutic strategies.

Large-scale collaborative studies of carefully defined patient populations with obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome, adequately controlled for potential confounders, are needed. Such studies carry the prospect of evaluating potential interactions between different basic mechanisms operating in obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome and cardiovascular disease, and interactions with other related disorders, such as obesity, diabetes and dyslipidaemia. Furthermore, translational studies involving cell culture and animal models linked to studies of obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome patients are necessary to integrate basic mechanisms with the clinical disorder.


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