Is There a Connection Between Sleep Apnea and Heart Disease?

Couple sleeping

Research on a link between sleep apnea and heart disease continues to grow. One recent study indicates sleep apnea may raise your risk of sudden cardiac death. The good news is that sleep apnea can be treated.

In an article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers say they found a link between sleep apnea and sudden death—not a cause and effect.

However, with heart disease the leading causes of death in the United States and sleep apnea affecting one in five adults, the findings need to be considered seriously.

Sleep Apnea Linked to a Variety of Cardiovascular Problems

The association with sudden cardiac death adds to previous research that links sleep apnea to a variety of cardiovascular problems, including high blood pressure, stroke, atrial fibrillation, and congestive heart failure.

The National Institutes of Health has said that multiple studies indicate obstructive sleep apnea—when you repeatedly stop and start breathing while you sleep—contributes to or worsens cardiovascular disease with serious consequences.

What Happens to the Heart with Sleep Apnea?

When you’re sleeping and you stop breathing, the oxygen level in your blood drops suddenly. That drop increases your blood pressure and strains your cardiovascular system, which is trying to deliver oxygen to your heart and brain.

This increase in blood pressure eventually persists even in the daytime, and we know that high blood pressure is a risk factor in the development of other cardiac conditions.

Indicators of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea affects men more than women, and is commonly seen in people who are obese. Many people with sleep apnea are undiagnosed, even though one of the tell-tale signs of the condition is snoring. Other clues that you may have sleep apnea include being drowsy during the daytime, feeling that your sleep isn’t refreshing, or having trouble sleeping in certain positions.

Don’t Ignore the Signs

So if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, are obese, or have high blood pressure, don’t ignore the signs. Talk to your doctor about getting a sleep test because sleep apnea is very treatable—for example, using a device at night to help with breathing is a common treatment.

By taking care of the problem now, you may prevent the adverse cardiac complications associated with sleep apnea.

author name

Tareck O. Nossuli, MD

Tareck O. Nossuli, MD, is a cardiologist with The Heart Group of Lancaster General Health.

Education: He earned both his medical degree and a PhD in cardiovascular physiology from Thomas Jefferson University. Dr. Nossuli completed his residency at Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston, and fellowships in heart failure/cardiomyopathy at Boston Medical Center, and cardiology at The Lahey Clinic in Burlington, MA. His areas of expertise include advanced heart failure, pulmonary hypertension, and ventricular assist device (VAD) management.

Call: 717-544-8300

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The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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