Snoring and heart disease

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Yesterday, the medical correspondent to NBC aired a story with the conclusion: if you snore, you are at risk for developing heart disease.

Next, a few chubby smokers were shown, followed by an interview with an attractive young couple. The husband had recently undergone sinus surgery to stop his snoring and “to prevent heart disease later”. Somewhat modified, the same story was aired that same evening, where it was suggested snoring puts pressure on the arteries to your brain (the carotid arteries) that may cause the thickening. Incidentally, similar stories were presented on CNN, while a number of other publications as far away as the Times of India quoted: “Heavy snorers may be at risk for the development of carotid atherosclerosis, which is the leading cause of stroke.

Intrigued I looked up the responsible article: intrepid ENT docs had indeed noted an increased incidence in thickness of the arteries to your brain and snoring.

It is not the first time that researchers have confused cause and effect:

  1. A and B regularly occur together.
  2. Therefore A is the cause of B.

“Grass is green, therefore everything green must be grass.”

Patients who are at risk for heart disease are often snorers, not the other way around. Obesity, metabolic syndrome as well as many other factors are all well-known cardiac risks and often occur in snorers. The conclusion (snoring causes a local injury and subsequent inflammation to the carotid arteries, thus later contributes to coronary artery disease) has

  • Absolutely no proof, unlike for instance, damage to an artery caused by smoking
  • Is a form of convoluted reasoning that I can admire for its originality, if not scientific accuracy.

These good doctors should stick to the things they are good at (treat snoring among other things), rather than venture into areas they apparently know little about (atherosclerosis). Their statisticians should learn the same – not every coincidence is a correllation!

Atherosclerosis is a serious disease that may cause blockages in arteries around your body, which include the carotid as well the coronary arteries and thus may lead to strokes, heart attacks and a number of other comlpications that often occur together.  Its victims often have many of the illnesses that cause atherosclerosis.


1. Snoring and Carotid Artery Intima Media Thickness, accepted for publication in the journal The Laryngoscope and was presented Friday at the 2013 Combined Sections Meeting of the Triological Society in Scottsdale, Ariz.

2. Your snoring may cost you a heart stroke, The Times of India, Sep 2, 2008.

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