People who have more severe obstructive sleep apnea are at greater risk of developing venous thromboembolisms (blood clots in their veins)—a potentially life-threatening condition.

The study, “Sleep apnea and incident unprovoked venous thromboembolism: Data from the French Pays de la Loire Sleep Cohort,” was presented at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Wojciech Trzepizur, a professor at Angers University Hospital, France, showed that patients with more severe sleep apnea, as measured by their apnea hypopnea index and markers of nocturnal oxygen deprivation, were more likely to develop unprovoked venous thromboembolism (VTE). Out of 7,355 patients followed over more than six years, 104 developed venous thromboembolisms.

Provoked venous thromboembolism is one that happens following a major VTE risk factor, such as ongoing cancer and recent hospitalization for surgery. A venous thromboembolism is considered “unprovoked” when no major risk factor is identified.

“We found that those who spent more than 6% of their night-time with levels of oxygen in their blood below 90% of normal had an almost two-fold risk of developing VTEs as compared to patients without oxygen deprivation,” says Trzepizur, in a release. “Further studies are required to see whether adequate treatment for OSA, for instance with CPAP treatment, might reduce the risk of VTEs in patients with marked nocturnal oxygen deprivation.”

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