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Risk of car accidents higher in people with sleep apnea

London: Treating the obstructive sleep apnea disorder can help save many lives as researchers have found that it is associated with a significantly increased risk of motor vehicle accidents.

Patients with sleep apnea were nearly 2.5 times more likely to be the driver in a motor vehicle accident, compared with a control group of other drivers in the general population, the findings showed.

Risk of car accidents higher in people with sleep apnea
Representational picture

"This study provides very strong evidence that obstructive sleep apnea patients have an increased traffic accident risk," said principal investigator and senior author Ludger Grote from University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

The study also found that the incidence of motor vehicle accidents was reduced by 70 percent among sleep apnea patients who used a therapy called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) for an average of at least four hours per night.

Further risk analysis found that severe excessive daytime sleepiness, a short sleep duration of five hours or less, and use of sleeping pills were independent predictors of increased crash risk in patients with sleep apnea.

The research team studied 1,478 sleep apnea patients with a mean age of 54 years. Seventy percent were men. Objective motor vehicle accident data were analysed from the Swedish Traffic Accident Registry (STRADA).

The control population of 635,786 driver's license holders included 21,118 individuals with a record of at least one motor vehicle accident during the study period.

"Effective identification and treatment of sleep apnea is essential to reduce avoidable, life-threatening accidents caused by drowsy driving," American Academy of Sleep Medicine president Timothy Morgenthaler noted.

The findings were detailed in the journal Sleep.

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