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HEALTH

Insomnia linked to higher heart attack risk

As if you didn't have enough to worry about during those sleepless nights, a Norwegian study out on Monday suggests that people with insomnia face a 27 to 45 percent higher risk of heart attack.

Insomnia linked to higher heart attack risk
Photo: Andrew Richards

About one-third of people report having trouble sleeping and should see a doctor for help, urged the authors of the study published in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association.

"Sleep problems are common and fairly easy to treat," said Lars Erik Laugsand, lead researcher from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology Department of Public Health in Trondheim.

"So it's important that people are aware of this connection between insomnia and heart attack and talk to their doctor if they're having symptoms."

The data came from 52,610 Norwegian adults who answered a national survey about their insomnia symptoms in 1995-97.

Over the next 11 years, researchers identified 2,368 people who had their first heart attacks, via hospital records and Norway's National Cause of Death Registry.

After adjusting for factors such as age, sex, marital status, education level, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, weight, exercise, shift work, depression and anxiety, researchers found the highest boost in risk among the most troubled sleepers.

When they compared data from people who said they usually slept fine to people who said they had trouble falling asleep almost daily over the course of the last month, they saw a 45 percent higher risk in the sleepless group.

Those who said they could fall asleep but not stay asleep all night showed a 30 percent higher risk of heart attack than the group that slept well.

And those who said they did not wake up feeling refreshed showed a 27 percent higher risk.

The researchers did not adjust their data for obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that arises when air flow is interrupted during sleep, and cautioned that particular sleep patterns among the Norwegian sample may not make the data immediately applicable to other populations.

However, similar links between insomnia and cardiovascular disease have been suggested in previous studies on US populations.

"It is becoming increasingly evident that insomnia is a significant modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease," said Girardin Jean-Louis, an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, who was not involved in the study.

Jean-Louis said more research was needed, but noted that some sleep conditions like short sleep and obstructive sleep apnea bear two of the same biomarkers as cardiovascular disease — C-reactive protein and interleukin-6 — which are proteins linked to inflammation.

The body's regulatory cycle for sleeping and wakefulness, known as circadian rhythms, could also play a role, according to Edward Fisher, professor of cardiovascular medicine at New York University.

"It is known that animals with disrupted circadian rhythms develop metabolic changes that, if they occurred in people, would increase heart disease risk," said Fisher, who also was not a part of the study.

"Overall, independent of the exact mechanism, the association shown seems plausible, and is yet another reason to do as the authors advise — seek professional help for better sleep," he added.

"Besides improving the general quality of life, it might even provide cardiovascular benefits."

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HEALTH

Why are more people waiting to be given a GP in Norway?

As many as 116,000 people are waiting to be given a "fastlege", or GP, in Norway. So, why are residents having to wait to be assigned a doctor?

More than 116,000 people are waiting to be given a GP in Norway. Pictured is a picture of a stethoscope and some paperwork.
More than 116,000 people are waiting to be given a GP in Norway. Pictured is a picture of a stethoscope and some paperwork. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.

A recent quarterly report from the Norwegian Directorate of Health has revealed that 116,000 people in Norway are on the waiting list to be given a GP

Furthermore, the number of those without a doctor has grown in recent years, with those in rural and northern parts of the country more likely to be left waiting for a GP. 

The current GP scheme in Norway allows everyone to choose their own doctor, who acts as the patients’ main point of contact with the health service. Your GP is also responsible for your primary medical needs, and you are allowed to change your doctor twice a year. 

READ ALSO: How Norway’s health insurance scheme works and the common problems foreigners face

Doctors in Norway have warned that a lack of funding and staff is threatening the GP system. 

“The GP scheme is on the verge of collapsing because there are too few doctors,” Bernand Holthe, a GP on the board of the Nordland Medical Association and a member of GP’s association for the area, told public broadcaster NRK

He says that reform in 2012 to the GP system has left doctors with too much work with not enough resources at their disposal. 

“After the collaboration reform in 2012, the GP scheme has been given too many tasks without receiving a corresponding amount of resources,” Holthe said. 

The government has pledged around 450 million in funding for GPs in its state budget for 2022, which Holthe argues isn’t enough to recruit the number of GPs necessary. 

Nils Kristian Klev and Marte Kvittum Tangen who represent the country’s 5,000 or so GPs also said they were disappointed with the level of funding allocated for doctors in the national budget. 

“The Labor Party was clear before the election that they would increase the basic funding in the GP scheme. This is by far the most important measure to ensure stability and recruitment and it is urgent,” the pair told Norwegian newswire NTB.

Patients have been left frustrated, and in a recent survey on healthcare in the country, one reader of The Local expressed their frustration at not having a GP. 

“I moved from Olso to Tromso, and I’m currently without a GP. Helsenorge didn’t think this was an issue and told me to visit a hospital if I needed to see a doctor. How can a municipality have no places for a doctor? Everyone has a right to a local doctor, and I’ve been left with nothing. All I can do is join a waiting list in the hopes a place turns up before I get ill,” Sinead from Tromsø said in the survey. 

Another reader described the fastlege system as “horrible”. 

Key vocabulary

Fastlege– GP 

Legevakt– Emergency room

Sykehus– Hospital 

Helseforsikring– Health insurance

Legekontor- Doctors office

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