sleep apnea and heart disease relationship

Effects of Sleep Apnea on Heart Disease

Snoring is annoying but harmless, right? Maybe not. While regular snoring is a nuisance, sleep apnea, a closely related and common condition, could have more serious consequences.

Sleep apnea is a condition that causes the individual to stop breathing briefly while asleep. Many people misidentify their sleep apnea as simply being regular snoring.

Unfortunately, this condition is a lot more than some harmless snoring. It is a serious risk factor for heart disease and stroke, both of which are leading causes of death in the United States. Anyone who may have sleep apnea should have the condition properly diagnosed and treated. It could literally save your life.

Sleep Apnea – A Surprisingly Common Problem

Sleep apnea is a condition characterized by brief but distinct pauses in breathing that occur regularly during sleep. Specifically, it is diagnosed when the person stops breathing for more than 10 seconds at least five times per hour.

An estimated one in five American adults suffers from at least mild sleep apnea. It is twice as likely to affect men as it is women. Many cases of sleep apnea are undiagnosed and many people suffering from it never seek treatment.

Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common type, is caused by weight on the upper chest and neck blocking airflow during sleep. It is associated with obesity, another risk factor for heart disease. However, just because someone is not obese does not mean that he or she does not have obstructive sleep apnea.

Additionally, there are other types of sleep apnea that can be equally dangerous. For example, central sleep apnea is a version of the condition caused by the brain failing to send regular signals to the diaphragm. This is associated with brain stem stroke.

The Impact of Sleep Apnea on Heart Health

As mentioned above, sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of heart disease. People with sleep apnea are also more likely to have high blood pressure, arrhythmia, sudden cardiac arrest, stroke and heart failure.

The exact reasons for this link are not fully understood yet. However, the link between high blood pressure and sleep apnea may help to explain the more serious effects as well. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Furthermore, low levels of oxygen in the blood are also associated with heart health conditions. Heart health may be harmed by consistently reduced blood oxygen levels during sleep.

Additionally, people who suffer from sleep apnea typically get less restful sleep. While sleeping, the body recuperates and repairs itself in various ways. It is possible that long-term poor sleep may also contribute to heart health problems.

Research suggests that people with obstructive sleep apnea are significantly more likely to die from sudden cardiac arrest. Additionally, they are more likely to die from this in their sleep compared to others.

In short, sleep apnea can have a serious impact on your cardiovascular health. Plus, it may be something that is affecting you negatively on a nightly basis. Therefore, it is important to address sleep apnea promptly and effectively.

Don’t Ignore Snoring

One of the challenges of identifying and treating sleep apnea is the fact that it happens during sleep. Therefore, the person is very unlikely to notice without a sleep study or other external monitoring.

However, it is common for sleeping partners, roommates and family members to notice snoring. While snoring is not always a health problem, it is best to speak to a health professional. This will most likely require a sleep study to determine if sleep apnea is a concern.

Sleep apnea effect on cardiovascular health

In particular, very loud snoring and sudden gasps are common signs of sleep apnea. If someone has complained about your snoring, speak with your physician. It is not worth the risk to simply ignore the problem. Additionally, remember that snoring is not always present for sleep apnea. So, if a sleeping partner notices any unusual breathing, it is a good idea to speak with a physician. Again, it is better to find out in a sleep study that you are simply a noisy sleeper than to ignore sleep apnea.

Treating the Condition

The sleep study process involves the patient sleeping in a controlled environment while being monitored. The doctor will examine how frequently the patient stops breathing per hour. Mild sleep apnea is characterized by five to 15 pauses per hour. Moderate sleep apnea is 15 to 30 pauses per hour. Severe sleep apnea is when the patient stops breathing more than 30 times per hour.

The most common method of treating sleep apnea is using a continuous positive airway pressure mask. A CPAP mask helps to keep the breathing passages open during sleep by maintaining continuous pressure.

Some patients find the CPAP mask uncomfortable to wear during sleep. However, there have been numerous advances including new options for designs that may be more comfortable for certain people. Even compared to a few years ago, patients are finding it easier than ever to find a suitable mask option.

There are some other options such as dental appliances that can help to keep the airway open. Additionally, surgery can be an effective option in some cases.

The good news about treatment is that, once the right approach has been found, the results are quick. Simply improving airflow during sleep is enough to reduce blood pressure and improve heart health rapidly.

Improving Rest

Beyond heart health, one of the difficulties of sleep apnea is poor sleep quality. If you would like to sleep better, consider the following tips:

  • Exercise consistently: At least 30 minutes of vigorous activity per day is considered optimal.
  • Avoid Caffeine: Don’t over consume caffeine and avoid it entirely before bed.
  • Create a Bedtime Routine: Create a consistent routine that tells your body it is time for bed. Dimming the lights, drinking herbal tea or taking a warm bath can help.
  • Limit Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can interfere with sleep. Women should limit themselves to one drink per day and men should have two or fewer drinks per day.

Learn More Today

Learning about risk factors that may affect your heart can help you to enjoy a healthier life. Learn more today.

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