When left untreated, sleep apnea causes a lot of stress on the heart. Sleep apnea is a condition in which the airway becomes blocked, or the muscles that control breathing stop moving. Throughout the night, breathing stops and resumes with a gasp, sometimes hundreds of times each night.
Because those with sleep apnea are constantly being awakened, they receive poor-quality sleep and as a result feel fatigued all day. There’s a good chance they also suffer from low-quality cardiovascular health. According to Harvard Medical School, the presence of sleep apnea is found in up to 83 percent of those with cardiovascular disease, 35 percent of those with high blood pressure, and up to 53 percent of those with heart failure, atrial fibrillation and stroke. As if that weren’t bad enough, untreated sleep apnea can raise the risk of dying from heart disease by up to five times.
How Poor Sleep Affects Your Heart
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is the most common form of sleep apnea, and happens when the upper airway collapses or becomes blocked during sleep. Over time, obstructive sleep apnea exposes the heart and circulation to harmful stimuli that may contribute to the progression of cardiovascular disease.
This is how it works:
- Every time you stop breathing at night, your oxygen level drops.
- Your body’s response is to release epinephrine (AKA adrenaline), a stress hormone.
- As this happens over and over again, your adrenaline levels remain high.
- Over time, this leads to high blood pressure.
Heart disease happens to be the leading cause of death in the United States, with stroke also being a leading cause of death and disability, says the American Heart Association. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for both heart disease and stroke.
This leaves no doubt there is a strong relationship between sleep apnea and hypertension/cardiovascular disease. If you have sleep apnea, in order to lower your risk of having a heart attack or stroke, you must treat the root cause. Proper treatment keeps the breathing passages open and oxygen flowing, allowing your blood pressure to lower and become stable.
Solutions: Lowering Your Risk
There are many treatments available to help alleviate sleep apnea symptoms, such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines, which provide a constant stream of air through a face mask in order to prevent the back of the throat from collapsing and obstructing your airflow. Research suggests that treating obstructive sleep apnea with CPAP can improve heart function and lower the risk of cardiovascular complications.
Custom-made mouthpieces are another option, especially for those who are unable to tolerate CPAP. These devices pull the jaw forward to help keep the airway open, and they’re worn at night like a simple retainer.
Contact Sleep Apnea Center of Michigan
To learn more about how to treat sleep apnea so you can reduce your cardiovascular risk, contact us today at (586) 203-2150.