Snorers in their 20s up to 60% more likely to suffer a stroke in middle age, scientists warn

It’s not just an annoying habit, snoring should be seen as a ‘red flag’ you are at greater risk of a heart attack in middle-age new research suggests.

A major study found that young adults who snore are 60 per cent more likely to go on to have a stroke, and five times more likely to develop a common heart rhythm disorder.

They are also significantly more likely to go on to have a stroke before the age of 50, which can ‘devastate young families’.

Experts believe obstructive sleep apnoea between the age of 20 and 50 may be indicative of heart problems that can lead to heart attack and stroke.

Presenting their findings at the European Society of Cardiology, they said the condition should not be thought of as ‘trivial’ or ‘a nuisance’.

Study found that young adults who snore are 60 per cent more likely to go on to have a stroke, and five times more likely to develop a common heart rhythm disorder (stock image)

Researchers from Stanford University, California, looked at data from 766,000 adults in the US aged 20 to 50.

Some 7,500 had obstructive sleep apnoea, an often-undiagnosed condition where the main symptom is snoring loudly and waking up gasping for breath.

The study showed they were 60 per cent more likely to suffer a stroke than those who were not frequent snorers, during a 10-year follow-up.

Snorers were also five times more likely to develop a condition which causes an irregular and fast heartbeat, known as atrial fibrillation, which affects 1.4 million people in the UK.

The risk was much higher than even smoking, a known risk factor for risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Professor Sanjiv Narayan, lead author, said: ‘Sleep apnoea is really common but we sort of ignore it because we think it’s trivial or just a little bit of a nuisance.

‘Until now no-one’s really shown the magnitude of the size of the risk for heart diseases. That’s what really surprised us.

He warned the study was in ‘relatively young people’, who may not know they are risk.

He added: ‘If they had a stroke it would devastate young families. It could take them away from the workplace. It would destroy their lives for the next 40 years.’

GPs should routinely ask patients if they snore, and highlight it as a heart health “red flag” that may indicate the need for further medication or tests, they suggest.

Sleep apnoea is relatively common, affecting around one in ten adults, particularly men who are elderly and overweight.

Obstructive sleep apnoea, the most common form of the condition, occurs when the upper part of the airway around the throat closes and prevents oxygen getting to the lungs.

Most pauses in breathing last for 10 to 30 seconds but they can be around a minute or longer, and can happen hundreds of times each night.

It can often be detected by a husband or wife, who alerts their partner they have been snoring.

The main treatment is a device called a CPAP machine, which pumps air into a mask users wear over the mouth or nose when sleeping.

Obesity is the biggest risk factor, as excessive body fat increases the bulk of soft tissue in the neck, which can place a strain on the throat muscles.

Experts believe the repeated interruptions to breathing causes a fall in blood oxygen levels and put strain on the heart and blood vessels.

It raises the pressure on the heart, which causes stretch in the heart chambers which can lead to atrial fibrillation. The fall in oxygen levels in the blood may also put stress on the heart, they suggest.

Professor Francesco Cappuccio, chair of cardiovascular medicine at Warwick University, said the findings show the importance of people who snore heavily seeking medical advice.

He said: ‘Obstructive sleep apnoea is a common chronic condition, often underdiagnosed. Untreated it can result in daytime fatigue, poor concentration, reduced performance, attentional failure and reduced quality of life.’