How does sleep apnea affect the heart

Research into sleep science and cardiovascular conditions suggests a close relationship between heart problems and apnea cases, although the severity of symptoms may increase the risk of developing specific medical complications.

Understanding the relationship between sleep apnea and the heart

Many patients are unaware of the health implications caused by living with untreated sleep apnea, specifically issues that lead to more serious heart conditions. Understanding the impact apnea can have on the cardiovascular system is essential for recognizing symptoms and getting the best treatment to reduce the risk of further medical complications, starting first with understanding how apnea directly affects the heart and its vital functions.

The science behind sleep apnea and cardiovascular system

When an apnea episode occurs, breathing becomes restricted, lowering the body’s oxygen intake. The stress hormone epinephrine (known commonly as adrenaline) is released in response, influencing blood pressure and the lining of essential veins and arteries. Unfortunately, repeated occurrences of disrupted breathing, which are common with those experiencing apnea symptoms – may cause adrenaline levels to build up in the system, raising cholesterol and other blood fats. Eventually, damage can occur to the arteries and the heart’s vital muscle functions, making those with untreated apnea twice as likely to develop cardio conditions than those without the disorder. 

Which heart conditions are linked to sleep apnea?

Medical research into sleep disorders and cardiovascular conditions has shown that patients with sleep apnea are 2-4 times more likely to develop heart problems, specifically those associated with abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), high blood pressure, heart failure, or coronary heart disease. This risk only increases for patients living with the additional complications of weight issues, exasperating the symptoms and risks of both apnea and cardiovascular conditions.

Apnea and irregular heart rhythms

Studies have shown close links between OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) cases and arrhythmias, with an estimated 25% of people using pacemakers also experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea. In some instances, treating sleep apnea has reduced or eradicated irregular heart rhythms, suggesting arrhythmia to be a result of the condition.

How apnea affects blood pressure

For a healthy adult, blood pressure naturally drops between 10-20% during the night, however, for apnea patients, this often stays higher than the ‘average’ range. Medical professionals refer to this as a ‘non-dipping’ blood pressure pattern caused by the obstruction of airways and drop in oxygen intake. This pressure places additional stress on the heart to move blood across the body, raising blood pressure levels and increasing the risk of cardiovascular issues.

The risks of heart failure

Heart failure, which continues to be a growing problem across the US population, increases by 140% for those living with OSA (obstructive sleep apnea). This is due to drops in oxygen levels experienced during sleep, which are suspected to damage blood vessels supplying blood to the heart. Consequently, stress to the body caused by reduced oxygen intake may result in higher blood pressure and heart rate, with severe cases leading to an enlarged heart.

Apnea and coronary artery disease

Coronary artery disease affects approximately 18.2 million American adults and remains one of the leading causes of death in the US, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease narrows the arteries and vital functionalities that deliver blood to the heart, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Recurring episodes of hypoxemia (low levels of oxygen in the blood) and reoxygenation (restoration of oxygen back into tissues) is commonly accompanied by apnea sleep symptoms, leading to oxidative stress and systemic inflammation, which may lead to the development of coronary artery disease. 

Treating heart conditions caused by sleep apnea

Directly managing sleep apnea symptoms alongside treatment for heart conditions may potentially prevent damage to a patient’s cardiovascular systems, reducing further complications and improving overall health outlook. Our team at Sleep Matters LLC provides safe, effective, and comfortable alternative apnea treatments endorsed by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Contact us today to explore your options.