Sleep Apnea and Heart Disease: Are They Linked?
Recent research has demonstrated a link between sleep apnea and an increased risk of sudden cardiac death.
Some studies indicate that apneas can lead to an increase in blood pressure, particularly during episodes when oxygen levels are low and the autonomic nervous system is activated. The higher pressure causes the heart to beat faster and harder, increasing its vulnerability for heart attacks or strokes. This increases the risk of blood clots and inflammation. Damage to blood vessel linings may lead to blockages and eventual heart attacks or strokes.
While this finding adds to the growing body of research linking apnea with heart disease, further investigation is necessary in order to fully confirm these findings.
Sleep apnea, the disorder whereby the airway is blocked during sleep, has become an increasingly recognized risk factor for heart disease. It also increases the likelihood of cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythms), hypertension (high blood pressure) and stroke.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and it’s significantly increased by factors like smoking, high blood pressure, poor diet and lack of exercise. Furthermore, certain health conditions like obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol levels can further compound this risk.
Age increases the risk of heart disease. People over 40 have an increased likelihood for developing heart failure and cardiovascular disease if they have obstructive sleep apnea.
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the tongue and soft tissue in the throat collapse during sleep, making it difficult to breathe. This blockage of airway may last up to 30 seconds at a time, disrupting sleep and increasing the risk of heart disease.
Sleep apnea can cause a variety of other issues, such as headaches and muscle pain. It also makes it hard to concentrate and remember things during the day. People with apnea have been known to experience mood swings or depression which could affect relationships or job performance negatively. Sleep apnea can present with fatigue, insomnia and heart palpitations.
Receiving treatment for your apnea is essential in improving quality of life and improving health overall. Treatment for this disorder may involve using a device that forces the airway open, such as a CPAP machine or face mask; alternatively, surgery could be conducted to remove tissue in your throat that blocks it.
Other treatments for sleep apnea include medications that relax the muscles in the airway or alter how the body signals to breathe. These drugs have proven successful in decreasing apneas and improving overall sleep quality.
Treatment for sleep apnea and its potential risk for heart disease depends on which symptoms are present, whether the patient has been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea or central sleep apnea, and any other health problems they have. In general, the best treatment option for this disorder is using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device for the CPAP therapy.
The link between sleep apnea and heart disease remains controversial. While research suggests those with apnea may have an increased likelihood of dying of sudden cardiac death than those without it, there is no proof to support a cause-and-effect connection. You can talk to your doctor for more information about sleep apnea and heart disease.