Sleep Apnea Puts Your Heart Health At Risk
by Catherine Cervone
If you snore so loudly you’re constantly waking your partner up, you’re falling asleep at the wheel, or you’re having extreme fatigue throughout the day, you may have sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is most noticeable when you’re sleeping, though it usually is not recognizable by the person themselves. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), it can cause the patient to stop breathing 5 to 30 times or more per hour during sleep. This can lead to trouble sleeping, as some will wake briefly when they stop breathing, and also to higher blood pressure and a higher risk of Cardiovascular diseases.
“Sleep apnea can happen to anybody, though usually overweight males are more prone to the sleeping disorder. Having a thicker neck and a more narrow airway, elder individuals, and those who drink and smoke regularly are all more likely to suffer from sleep apnea,” says Dr. Haidang Hoang, BayCare Medical Director of Primary Care Physicians of Polk and East Hillsborough countries.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, there is an increasing connection being developed between people with sleep apnea and people with various heart diseases or cardiovascular problems. Whether sleep apnea actually causes heart disease is not clear, but it is known that if you suffer from sleep apnea and it goes untreated, the chance of developing hypertension in the future increases significantly. If sleep apnea is treated, high blood pressure and heart failure rates go down significantly, leading experts to believe there is a link between the two.
“When you stop breathing while you’re sleeping, the oxygen level in your body falls. This sends signals to the brain to tighten blood vessels to increase blood flow to the heart and brain, since they have priority. This, however, leads to high blood pressure,” says Dr. Hoang.
Though it may seem as if this raised blood pressure would be temporary, untreated sleep apnea patients actually experience higher blood pressure during the day as well, even when they’re breathing normally, which is one of the reasons why this disease can be so dangerous. This elevated blood pressure increases the chances of various medical conditions including abnormal heart beat, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes.
The disease is more common than you think. One in five adults suffers from at least mild sleep apnea, and more men are affected than women. Multiple variations of the condition exist, but the two most common are obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA).
According to a study done in 2008, it is believed that OSA, the more common of the two types mentioned above, could be more prevalent than asthma or adult diabetes. OSA could affect more than 18 million Americans, which is more than twice the amount of people that currently reside in New York City. The National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research estimated that sleep apnea could be responsible for 38,000 cardiovascular deaths annually. Not only that, OSA increases the risk of heart failure by 140%, the risk of a stroke by 60%, and the risk of coronary heart disease by 30%. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of adult deaths in the United States, according to AHA. Treating sleep apnea, which might be connected to CVD, could be a big step in helping people affected by CVD.
“The first step to treating sleep apnea is to understand the signs and symptoms. If you realize you’re waking up constantly at night, have morning headaches, and are always fatigued, schedule an appointment with your family physician. The most proactive step you can take is adopting healthy lifestyle choices and losing weight,” explains Dr. Hoang.
Think you or a loved one might be affected by sleep apnea? There are various local options available for those who are suffering from this common problem. Bartow Regional Medical Center is offering a free sleep clinic every first and third Thursday of the month. Additionally, you could schedule an appointment with a sleep diagnostic center like Polk Starlight Sleep Labs to learn more about your condition.