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How Sleep Apnea Hurts Your Heart

dreamstime_s_38303710One of the most common and most serious effects of sleep apnea is damage to your heart and circulatory system. This cardiovascular risk is the leading cause of death among people with sleep apnea, and it’s the most important reason to get effective sleep apnea treatment.

But how does sleep apnea lead to these heart risks?

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is the most common effect of sleep apnea. The most common explanation for how sleep apnea leads to increased blood pressure is that when your brain experiences an oxygen shortage, it tells the heart to beat harder and faster. This increased speed and pressure of the heart increases the blood pressure. Not only that, but because your body is trying to counteract the effects of intermittent oxygen shortages during sleep, your blood pressure doesn’t drop during sleep, which is associated with significant risk of sudden death from heart failure.

Heart Failure

Depending on the population assessed, between 25-70% of heart failure patients have sleep apnea. It seems that sleep apnea has a causal role in heart failure, likely mediated through the effects of high blood pressure. However, even without high blood pressure, sleep apnea patients are at increased risk of heart failure. The cause may be that intermittent oxygen shortages stimulate the heart to restructure, leading to many different effects, including a predisposition to heart failure.

In addition to elevated heart failure risk, patients with sleep apnea are less likely to recover from heart failure.

Arrhythmia

Arrhythmia is when your heart has an irregular rhythm. There are many different kinds of arrhythmias, and about half of people with sleep apnea have sleep arrhythmias. The most common types of arrhythmias found in people with sleep apnea are an accelerated heart rate, slight pauses in the heartbeat, and skipping beats.

We don’t understand the link between sleep apnea and arrhythmia, but it’s likely that repeated demands for more oxygen during sleep play a role.

Stroke

Stroke is when something clogs the blood vessels in the brain, typically scar tissue or plaque from your arteries. The brain is deprived of oxygen and food, which can cause serious brain damage.

Elevated blood pressure or blood pressure surges can break free plaque or other material in the arteries, which then travels to the brain.

Myocardial Infarction (Heart Attack)

This is essentially like a stroke of the heart. Blocked blood vessels in the heart starve the heart of oxygen, leading to significant damage to the heart muscle. The causes are similar to stroke.

End-Stage Renal Disease

End-stage renal disease (ESRD) is when your kidneys cease to effectively filter waste from your blood. It is likely mediated by high blood pressure and diabetes, which can damage kidneys. Sleep apnea is present in up to 60% of people with ESRD.

Lowering Your Risk

The good news is that for most of the conditions that have been studied, sleep apnea treatment will cause your risk to go down again to a normal level.

Want to learn how treating sleep apnea can help lower your risk of heart problems? Please call 402-493-4175 for an appointment with Omaha sleep dentist Dr. Roger Roubal at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.