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The Risky Link Between Sleep Apnea and Heart Disease

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Sleep Apnea is a serious health issue that affects millions of people around the world. Recent studies have shown that 1 in 5 adults in the US has at least mild OSA, and additional research shows a firm link between Sleep Apnea and heart disease. By treating your Sleep Apnea, you will not only be doing your partner a favor by putting an end to your snoring, you’ll also be minimizing your risk of heart disease and heart attacks.

So, how are Sleep Apnea and heart disease linked?

 Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) contributes to an elevated risk of heart disease in the following ways:

Epinephrine spikes: During an OSA episode, oxygen levels drop in the body as a result of labored breathing and diminished airflow. The body naturally responds by dumping adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) into the bloodstream. The release of this stress hormone causes an increase in blood pressure and can contribute to cardiovascular problems if adrenaline/epinephrine levels are elevated on a frequent basis. Continued cardiovascular problems can lead to a heart attack.

Irregular heartbeat: Those who suffer from Sleep Apnea tend to see an increase in the frequency and severity of atrial fibrillation, or an irregular heartbeat. While healthy individuals may experience a slightly irregular heartbeat from time to time, Sleep Apnea patients have a much higher likelihood of chronic atrial fibrillation, a precursor to future heart-related conditions.

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Weight-related issues: Overweight individuals are at a higher risk of suffering from OSA, but Sleep Apnea itself can actually contribute to weight gain and an unhealthy lifestyle. Sleep Apnea patients often wake up tired and trudge through the day in a haze. This can contribute to poor decision-making and unhealthy habits, including eating too much, eating unhealthy food, smoking, and drinking. An unhealthy weight is already a contributing factor to heart disease and heart attacks, and Sleep Apnea exacerbates this problem.

Elevated heart rate: Sleep Apnea directly affects a person’s heart rate during OSA episodes. These bouts can cause a long-term increase in the resting heart rate, even outside Sleep Apnea episodes. The net result? The heart is effectively working overtime when it doesn’t have to, and that can interfere with its normal ventricular function. An elevated heart rate can lead to hypoxia (a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the body’s tissues), surges in blood flow, and other potentially damaging disturbances.

The statistics are staggering. About 610,000 people die of heart disease every year in the US, and it is estimated that about 42 million American adults suffer from some type of sleep-disordered breathing. The really scary part? A vast majority of those individuals haven’t sought treatment for OSA. But this doesn’t have to be the case. We can save countless lives through OSA education and individualized treatment plans. From today’s leading CPAP machines to simple lifestyle changes, there are many things those who suffer from Sleep Apnea can do to give themselves a healthier night’s sleep.

  • Daniela Brannon

    Daniela has researched and published over 60 articles covering topics that aim to inform and empower people living with Sleep Apnea. As an avid reader and researcher, Daniela continues to grow her knowledge about Sleep Apnea and CPAP therapy everyday with the help of coworkers, CPAP.com customers, and members of other CPAP communities online.

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