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Children with obstructive sleep apnea who don't outgrow it by adolescence have nearly three times the risk of high blood pressure as teens compared to those without the breathing issue, a new long-term study shows.
But children whose sleep apnea disappears in adolescence don't have any increased risk, the study found.
Obstructive sleep apnea, when breathing is paused during sleep, and blood pressure problems have been linked before. But few researchers had taken thorough, long-term looks at the problem in children, said the study's lead author, Julio Fernandez-Mendoza.
He's an associate professor at the Sleep Research and Treatment Center of the Penn State University College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
The findings, which are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal, were presented Friday as part of the American Heart Association's virtual Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Conference. There are three types of sleep apnea, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, with obstructive sleep apnea – caused by airway blockage – being the most common. The academy estimates sleep apnea affects nearly 30 million adults, with most cases undiagnosed.
But it also affects many kids.
The new study looked at 421 children, ages 5 to 12, who were monitored overnight at a sleep lab. Of those children, about 12% had at least mild obstructive sleep apnea.
After more than seven years of follow-up, when most of the children were between ages 12 and 19, sleep apnea had disappeared in a little more than half of them. Children often outgrow the problem, Fernandez-Mendoza said.
After adjusting for factors such as sex, race/ethnicity, age, levels of obesity and whether the children had their tonsils or adenoids removed, researchers found children whose sleep apnea persisted into adolescence had 2.9-fold higher odds of having high blood pressure than children who never had the problem. If sleep apnea began in their teen years, they were 1.7 times more likely to have high blood pressure.
Obstructive sleep apnea can be caused by problems such as enlarged tonsils or adenoids in some kids, but obesity is a critical factor, Fernandez-Mendoza said.
Dr. Carissa M. Baker-Smith, d