Sleep apnea patients face higher pneumonia risk

Woman with flu lying in bedA study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) found a link between sleep apnea and pneumonia. It discussed that those who suffer from sleep apnea are at a higher risk of pneumonia.

Sleep apnea is a chronic sleep disorder that affects approximately 18 million Americans, so you’re not alone. With sleep apnea, your breathing repeatedly starts and stops throughout the sleep cycle. The interruption in breathing can last seconds to minutes, and normal breathing usually resumes with a loud snort or choking sound.

snoringSnoring not just bothersome


People with sleep apnea often snore loudly, and are tired after a full night’s sleep because their sleep cycle frequently is interrupted. Problem is, sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed for many years because there isn’t a simple test that can diagnose the condition.

Let’s break it down further. The two main types of sleep apnea are obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. Obstructive is more common and happens when the muscles in the throat relax during sleep, which results in a collapsing or blocking of the airway. It can affect anyone, but is more common in obese individuals.

Obstructive sleep apnea has been linked to heart disease and cognitive impairment. So be warned: if you or your loved one could have this condition, don’t shrug it off (and sleep in separate quarters). See your doctor.

Central sleep apnea, on the other hand, is less common and occurs when the brain doesn’t send appropriate signals to the muscles that control breathing. While central sleep apnea can affect anyone, it is much more common in people with other medical conditions or who are taking certain medications.

Related: Is Pneumonia Contagious?

Sleep apnea increases risk of pneumoniaSA

Previous research has investigated the connection between sleep apnea and pneumonia; but this study, led by researchers from the Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan, is the largest study of its kind to date. The researchers looked at over 34,000 patients from Taiwan’s National Health Insurance Research Database. About 7,000 of these patients had sleep apnea and were matched with over 27,000 patients without sleep apnea. The occurrence of pneumonia in these higher in people with sleep apnea patients was monitored during the study period from 2000 to 2010.

The results showed the group of patients who suffered from sleep apnea had an increased risk of pneumonia (9.36% of patients developed pneumonia) compared to the group of patients that didn’t have sleep apnea (7.77% of patients developed pneumonia).

In addition, the patients that developed pneumonia were more likely to have other illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease and dementia. Also, the more severe the sleep apnea, the higher the risk of pneumonia.


This study did not investigate exactly how sleep apnea increases a person’s risk of pneumonia, but it did suggest that individuals with sleep apnea are more likely to aspirate fluid from their throat into their lungs. People with sleep apnea often don’t sleep well, and poor sleep can weaken a person’s immune system, making them more susceptible to illness. Your body needs quality sleep!

While this study has shown that sleep apnea is a risk factor for pneumonia, it is also a risk factor for many other health conditions: high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and diabetes.

So when you snuggle up next to your partner under the covers, take note of his/her sleep habits and make sure she’s/he’s breathing easy. Proper management of sleep apnea is key. Lifestyle changes, such as the proverbial healthy diet and exercise, mouthpieces, breathing devices and possible surgery may all be part of your treatment plan.

Author Bio

Emily Lunardo studied medical sociology at York University with a strong focus on the social determinants of health and mental illness. She is a registered Zumba instructor, as well as a Canfit Pro trainer, who teaches fitness classes on a weekly basis. Emily practices healthy habits in her own life as well as helps others with their own personal health goals. Emily joined Bel Marra Health as a health writer in 2013.


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