Cholesterol may play a special role in raising the risk of cardiovascular disease in people with sleep apnea, reports NPR.

Research published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine suggests that cholesterol, a common culprit in heart disease, plays a special role in raising risk for people with sleep apnea. The findings hint that commonly prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins could limit the damage sleep apnea does to blood vessels.

In the past, doctors figured the cycle of breathing and choking that happens to sleep apnea patients must be responsible for the heightened risk of heart attack and high blood pressure. But Dr. Sanja Jelic, a physician at Columbia University, says there’s a conundrum: “Why would such a relatively mild [but repetitive] decrease in oxygen cause cardiovascular disease in contrast to other lung diseases that cause more severe [loss of oxygen] but don’t increase risk for cardiovascular disease?”