Sleep Apnea and Heart Health
by Kim Beardsmore
being tremendously debilitating due to incessant tiredness,
sleep apnea also has a much more insidious effect on the
human system. In fact, sleep apnea if left untreated can be
dangerous leading to serious health problems such as high
blood pressure, congestive heart failure, hypertension,
abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia), excessive carbon dioxide
levels (hypercapnia), stroke and heart disease. The link
between sleep apnea and heart disease as yet however is
still not completely understood.
Despite the link between heart related health problems and
sleep apnea, researchers are unable to determine whether
sleep apnea directly contributes to the development of heart
disease or exactly what other factors are involved. One
thing however, is clear- for a person diagnosed with sleep
apnea in the present, this person's chance of developing
hypertension at some stage in the future are very great.
Studies have shown that when those who suffer from sleep
apnea and high blood pressure are treated for both, the two
conditions improve significantly. This also is the case for
heart disease and sleep apnea.
During a sleep apnea episode at night, blood pressure will
shoot up because the level of oxygen drops and thus serves
to stimulate receptors in the body that make their way to
the brain. Once this happens, the brain sends a message to
the nervous system informing the blood vessels to "tighten
up" so to speak, to allow them to increase the oxygen flow
to both the brain and the heart and then to other parts of
A patient who suffers
from the cessation of breathing many times per night that
lasts for anywhere from one to four minutes at a time can
cause a great deal of stress overload on the heart.
Interestingly enough this phenomena tends to carry over into
a patient's waking hours. The reduced levels of oxygen are
likely to set off "multiple mechanisms" that take place even
when the patient is awake and breathing regularly.
Those with sleep apnea are 2.3 times more likely to develop
congestive heart failure than are those without sleep apnea.
For obstructive sleep apnea patients the risk for having a
stroke is 1.5 times more likely. As well those who suffer
from atrial fibrillation can have more complications due to
obstructive sleep apnea. Atrial fibrillation is a condition
where the atrium (or upper portion of the heart) is not
beating in synch with the ventricle (or lower portion of the
The treatment for atrial
fibrillation is to "cardiovert" the heart. What this means
is that the atrium is reset in such a way that it beats in
harmony with the ventricle. After going through the "cardioversion"
over half of patients find that their atrial fibrillation
will return. Those suffering from obstructive sleep apnea
are likely to have an eighty percent chance that they will
suffer from the heart problem again in the future. The risk
of sudden, expected death is greatly increased in patients
who suffer from both obstructive sleep apnea as well as any
heart related problem.
Regular visits to the doctor and following the proper
treatments including taking medications as directed is so
important for those who suffer from both of these types of
serious health problems. If left untreated either one of
these conditions together can cause serious damage to a