Results of a European study published in August of this year show an association between Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and high cholesterol levels in the blood. Both are independently associated with a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.
The research included nearly 6,000 adults across Europe who had not previously been diagnosed with hyperlipidemia and for whom lipid-lowering drugs (statins) had not been prescribed. Investigators reported strong associations between OSA severity and higher total cholesterol levels.
Specifically, elevated triglyceride concentration, high LDL-cholesterol (commonly known as “bad” cholesterol) and lower LDL-cholesterol (sometimes described as “good” cholesterol), seem to coincide with the sleep problems associated with Sleep Apnea.
Measurements of OSA severity were made using the mean Apnea-Hypopnoea Index (AHI), Oxygen Desaturation Index (ODI), and mean and lowest oxygen saturation. Interestingly, however, the study also identified a geographic factor. The highest lipid concentrations were recorded in participants from Northern Europe, according to verified results.
Previous studies also indicate that there are statistically significant differences in the correlation of lipid levels with OSA based on age and weight. Overweight and obesity tend to increase the potential for Sleep Apnea, and many obese patients also have abnormal metabolic results, including high blood pressure, a high blood sugar level and abnormal lipid levels, including high cholesterol.
In 2016, a study conducted at the University of Helsinki found that the “genes responsible for cholesterol transportation are not as active in someone who has suffered from sleep deprivation as they would be in someone getting good, quality sleep.”
Sleep deprivation is associated with a whole host of medical problems. A lack of quality sleep negatively affects the body’s immune system, disrupts metabolic function, can cause inflammation and often wreaks havoc with appetite.
What Is High Cholesterol?
High cholesterol is associated with higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Cholesterol is a beneficial fatty substance that attaches to proteins and is transported throughout the body via its blood circulation.
However, too much of a good thing can lead to arterial blockage. Total cholesterol is measured by the concentration of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and triglycerides, the most common type of fat found in the body.
While common wisdom points to a connection between cholesterol and heart disease, the evidence may be less clearcut than it is complicated, according to emerging evidence. And there is still some dispute about whether high cholesterol is a primary cause, or simply a contributing factor. However, these latest studies of Sleep Apnea patients seem to confirm a connection between OSA and abnormal cholesterol.
What Are the Symptoms and Possible Causes of High Cholesterol?
There is no way to determine cholesterol levels other than through a blood test, and there are no real symptoms associated with abnormal cholesterol levels. Most medical professionals recommend routine blood tests to assure that cholesterol levels remain in the healthy range, commonly less than 200 for adults.
Genetics may influence cholesterol levels, but a healthy diet, routine exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can often counteract the tendency toward high cholesterol.
Physicians often prescribe lifestyle changes rather than drugs to control cholesterol, but statins represent a type of drug widely prescribed as an additional safeguard; they work by lowering the amount of cholesterol produced by the liver, and also by facilitating the removal of excess cholesterol that is already circulating in the bloodstream.
Ongoing studies are conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of the drugs, as well as potential additional benefits of statins. One such study suggests that statin drugs could limit the damage sleep apnea does to blood vessels.”
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep Apnea is a serious disorder with potentially life-damaging consequences. Identified as an upper respiratory blockage that can cause a person to stop breathing intermittently while asleep, the condition interferes with normal sleep patterns which, in turn, contributes to daytime drowsiness. Left untreated, it also increases the risk for other medically-serious conditions, including chronic high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, among others.
Sleep Apnea can cause blood vessel damage as well; the rise and fall of blood oxygen levels caused by OSA have been found to damage a specific type of protein cell that lines blood vessel walls. That, in turn, weakens the structure of the cells, causing inflammation and their eventual destruction.
Three primary types of Sleep Apnea have been identified; they are Obstructive Sleep Apnea, the most common, Central Sleep Apnea and Complex Sleep Apnea. Each is characterized by a unique malfunction of the body’s breathing system, which in turn results in fragmented sleep and physical stress.
Unchecked, sleep apnea not only interferes with quality of life but contributes to overall ill health and accidental injury.
Sleep Apnea also interferes with learning and memory function.
Who Suffers from Sleep Apnea?
As many as 22 million Americans may suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association, but up to 80 percent of OSA sufferers may be undiagnosed. Symptoms often include excessive snoring, but the Mayo Clinic notes that not everyone who snores has OSA. The risk for men, particularly older men, is three times higher than for women, but even children and infants can suffer from the condition.
Additional risk factors include family history, overweight and obesity, a thick neck, smoking, and nasal congestion. Use of alcohol, sedatives, and tranquilizers may also increase the risk of airway collapse that leads to OSA.
Think You May Have Sleep Apnea? Take Our FREE Sleep Apnea Quiz!
Does Sleep Apnea Increase Cholesterol?
The correlation between Sleep Apnea and unhealthy cholesterol buildup has been researched in several different ways. There is increasing evidence of the relationship. However, there is as yet no indication of a causal effect. In other words, those who suffer from Sleep Apnea may indeed also have high cholesterol, but there is no reason to think that one can cause the other.
Rather, both Sleep Apnea and abnormal cholesterol levels can be considered independent risk factors for other health problems.
How Does Sleep Affect Performance?
It is indisputable that sleep habits affect overall well being.
Normally, during sleep, the muscles of the airway relax. If they relax too much, as in cases of Obstructive Sleep Apnea, breathing passages collapse, causing an obstruction that interferes with normal breathing. Sleep Apnea may actually cause a person to stop breathing for as long as 10 seconds. This, in turn, produces a choking reflex that startles a person into taking a breath. This can cause a recurring cycle of low blood oxygen, causing damage to arterial walls.
The sufferer may be unaware of the incidents, but will often feel listless and fatigued in the morning. Other common complaints are headaches, irritability, and a decreased ability to concentrate. There is also a higher risk of accidents related to daytime drowsiness, including falling asleep while driving.
How Is Sleep Apnea Treated?
Treating Sleep Apnea can be as simple as donning a type of nighttime face mask connected via flexible tubing to a device that constantly forces fresh air into the respiratory system. This prevents muscle collapse that leads to a breathing interruption.
There are many different types of CPAP machines. The initials stand for “continuous positive airway pressure” and the portable devices can be life-changing. Restoring the normal sleep cycle has a positive effect on overall health, and can minimize the risk of other medical conditions.
Finding What Works for You
The best way to diagnose Sleep Apnea is through a monitored sleep study, performed either at home or at a sleep clinic. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, you will be directed to try different types of masks and machines. It may take a bit of trial and error to find the one that will best meet your needs, but it’s worth it. If you’re interested in learning more about how home sleep studies work, visit our home sleep apnea test for more details!
CPAP.com has been supplying affordable Sleep Apnea equipment since 1999. With more than 1,000 different products in stock, we are certain that you will find effective options to assure a good night’s sleep every night.
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David Repasky has been using CPAP treatment since 2017 and has first-hand experience with what it’s like to live with Sleep Apnea. He brings the patient’s perspective to the CPAP.com blog and has received formal training in CPAP machines, masks, and equipment.