Snoring appears to be a harmless condition and the worst it can do is to annoy your spouse but when snoring is related to sleep apnea and when a snorer repeatedly stops breathing for brief moments, it can lead to cardiovascular problems and potentially be life-threatening. Heart.org
The connection between sleep apnea and heart disease is evolving very rapidly. People with cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke have a high prevalence of sleep apnea. Whether sleep apnea actually causes heart disease is still unclear, but we do know that if you have sleep apnea today, the chance that you will develop hypertension in the future increases significantly. National Sleep Foundation
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, and stroke is the No. 4 cause and a leading cause of disability. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for both.
“The evidence is very strong for the relationship between sleep apnea and hypertension and cardiovascular disease generally, so people really need to know that,” – Dr. Donna Arnett, Ph.D., chair and professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the incoming president of the American Heart Association. Heart.org
“The presence and severity of sleep apnea are associated with a significantly increased risk of sudden cardiac death,” – Dr. Apoor Gami, a cardiac electrophysiologist at Midwest Heart Specialists-Advocate Medical Group in Elmhurst, Ill.
In a research Gami and his team had found that patients with sleep apnea who suffered sudden cardiac death often did so at night, a completely opposite pattern than found in others without sleep apnea who had sudden cardiac death.
“That was the first direct link [found] between sudden cardiac death and sleep apnea,” – Gami.
In a newer study, the researchers tracked more than 10,000 men and women, average age 53, who were referred for sleep studies at the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center, mostly due to suspected sleep apnea, from 1987 through 2003. After sleep tests, 78 percent were found to have sleep apnea.
During the follow-up of up to 15 years, they found that 142 had sudden cardiac arrest, either fatal or resuscitated.
According to Gami three measures strongly predicted the risk of sudden cardiac death are being 60 or older, having 20 apnea episodes an hour or having low blood levels of oxygen. WebMD
Why does your blood pressure go up when your sleep is disrupted by sleep apnea?
Your blood pressure will go up because when you’re not breathing, the oxygen level in your body falls and excites receptors that alert the brain. In response, the brain sends signals through the nervous system and essentially tells the blood vessels to “tighten up” in order to increase the flow of oxygen to the heart and the brain, because they have priority.
The problem is that things that go on at night tend to carry over in the daytime, even when the sleep apnea patient is awake. The low oxygen levels at night seem to trigger multiple mechanisms that persist during the daytime, even when the patient is breathing normally.
If you treat people with high blood pressure and sleep apnea, or heart failure and sleep apnea, the measures of blood pressure or heart failure are significantly improved. There is good evidence to think there is a cause-and-effect relationship between hypertension and sleep apnea.
How can CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) reduce the cardiovascular consequences of sleep apnea?
The available evidence tells us that when you treat people with sleep apnea using CPAP, their blood pressure is not only lower at night—it’s also lower during the day. That’s a very good thing. Moreover, people with atrial fibrillation [a common type of irregular heart beat] with sleep apnea that is appropriately treated have only a 40% chance of coming back for further treatment of their atrial fibrillation. If their sleep apnea is untreated, the chance of a recurrence of atrial fibrillation goes up to 80%. The message to heart patients with sleep apnea is: With treatment of your sleep apnea, your chances of improvement are considerably better. National Sleep Foundation