Study objectives: Patients with coronary heart disease (CHD) and obstructive sleep apnea may have an increased cardiac risk due to nocturnal myocardial ischemia triggered by apnea-associated oxygen desaturation. Sleep structure in patients with obstructive sleep apnea is fragmented by activation of the central nervous system (CNS) (arousal) due to obstructive apneas. Nocturnal myocardial ischemia may lead to activation of the CNS as well.
Patients: Fourteen patients with obstructive sleep apnea and CHD disease and seven patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea without CHD were studied. Overnight sleep studies and simultaneous six-lead ECG recordings were performed. In addition, sleep studies and ECG recordings were performed with administration of a sustained-release nitrate in these patients in a double-blinded crossover design.
Results: Analysis of three nights' recordings revealed 144 episodes of nocturnal myocardial ischemia in six subjects. Five patients had underlying CHD and one patient exhibited diffuse wall defects of the coronary arteries; also, 85.4% of ischemic episodes were concomitant with apneas and oxygen desaturation > 3%, and 77.8% of ischemic episodes occurred during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, although total amount of REM sleep was only 18% of total sleep time. Mean oxygen saturation was significantly lower (p < 0.05) during apnea-associated ischemic episodes than during nonapnea-associated ischemia (77.3% vs 93.1%). Nitrate administration did not reduce ischemic episodes. Sleep architecture (macrostructure) exhibited a reduction in sleep stages non-REM 3 and 4 and REM sleep. Comparing the microstructure of sleep (arousals) within episodes with and without ischemia but similar criteria like sleep stage, apnea activity, and oxygen saturation, we found significantly more (p < 0.01) and severe (p < 0.001) arousals during periods with myocardial ischemia than during control episodes. In addition, microstructure of sleep was disturbed by myocardial ischemia itself in absence of apneas.
Conclusion: It is concluded that patients with CHD and obstructive sleep apnea are endangered by apnea-associated ischemia and that these ischemic episodes lead to activation of the CNS and additional fragmentation of sleep. Patients with nocturnal ischemia should be screened for underlying sleep apnea even if nitrate therapy fails.