Obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, is a common disorder caused by intermittent narrowing or blocked airways which disrupt sleep and breathing during sleep.
A study by the National Institutes of Health showed that middle-aged men with sleep apnea are more likely to suffer a stroke, the second leading cause of death worldwide.
Researchers followed more than 5,000 participants aged 40 or older with no history of the disorder. They found that over nine years, men with 'mild' sleep apnea were more likely to have a stroke. And those with 'moderate to severe' sleep apnea, ran three times the risk of having a stroke.
Among women the risk increased significantly only for those with 'severe' sleep apnea.
These results were independent of other risk factors such as weight, high blood pressure, race, smoking and diabetes.
Researchers say the disparity between the sexes may be due to men developing OSA at an earlier age and leaving it untreated for longer periods of time.
They also found that untreated sleep apnea is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, heart failure and death from any cause.