Heart Disease and It’s Impact on Sleep Apnoea

Sleep Apnoea and Heart Disease | Intus Healthcare

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Last updated on July 6th, 2023 at 04:51 pm

Cardiovascular Heart Disease (CVD) includes conditions that narrow or block blood vessels in the heart due to increased fat around the coronary arteries. Heart disease also covers conditions that affect your heart’s muscles and valves or cause abnormal rhythms (arrhythmias). These include:

  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Heart valve disease
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Heart failure
  • Peripheral arterial disease
  • Irregular heart rhythm
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke

Symptoms

Symptoms can vary depending on the type of heart disease, however, common symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Swelling in ankles, legs, and feet
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Neck, jaw or back pain

Causes

Heart disease can be caused by a range of factors, including underlying medical conditions, lifestyle choices and genetics. Some common causes include:

High blood pressure: High blood pressure puts a strain on your heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease.

Smoking: Nicotine damages blood vessels and reduces the amount of oxygen to the heart, increasing the risk of heart disease.

High cholesterol: High levels of low-density lipoprotein (bad proteins), can build up plaque in your arteries, restricting the blood flow to the heart.

Diabetes: Untreated diabetes damages blood vessels and nerves that control the heart, increasing the risk of heart disease.

Obesity: Excess weight contributes to high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, increasing the risk of developing heart disease.

Lifestyle: Lack of physical exercise, a diet high in saturated fats and refined sugars can contribute to developing heart disease.

Family history: Your genetics play a role in the likelihood of the condition, if your close relatives have a history of heart disease, you’re at higher risk. Men are also typically at higher risk of developing the condition at younger age than women (1).

Can heart problems cause Sleep Apnoea?

Conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease increase your risk of developing Obstructive Sleep Apnoea.

FREE Online Sleep Apnoea Risk Test | Intus Healthcare

Heart Disease and Sleep Apnoea

It is estimated that moderate to severe Sleep Apnoea affects millions of people in the UK, and approximately 80% are unaware they have the disorder. Untreated OSA can increase the risk of serious health complications, including heart failure, by 140% (2).

Which type of Sleep Apnoea is commonly associated with heart failure?

Sleep-disordered breathing is common in heart failure patients. All forms of untreated Sleep Apnoea, such as Obstructive Sleep Apnoea and Central Sleep Apnoea, put you at risk of developing heart conditions.

Sleep Apnoea and low blood pressure

Each time we experience an apnoea event, our bodies are deprived of oxygen which causes our blood pressure to drop. When our muscles are temporarily starved of oxygen, they can suffer damage too. The same is true for the heart. OSA will take its toll on the smooth muscle that lines your heart, increasing the chances of developing cardiovascular disease if left untreated.

We should also point out that systemic low blood pressure can be problematic for those who might already be suffering from other conditions, such as diabetes, so confirming the presence of OSA is critical.

Inflammation markers

Issues with the heart have been associated with chemicals in the body commonly known as “inflammation markers”. These hormones tend to be present when we are under stress (both physical and mental) or if an illness is present.

Inflammatory markers such as cortisol have been associated with weight gain, increased chances of becoming ill and problems with the heart. The main issue is that these markers tend to go unnoticed until significant damage has already been done. 

It’s a good rule of thumb to remember that the presence of OSA likely signifies that the inflammation markers throughout your body are higher than average, another reason to seek professional treatment. 

Heart disease and micro-arousal

This lesser-known scenario is equally essential when discussing the relationship between OSA and heart disease. When you suddenly stop breathing during sleep, and as the oxygen levels within your blood begin to drop, the body will initiate an instinctual response called a ‘micro-arousal’ – this response involves quickly raising your heart rate to accommodate your low blood pressure. 

Such a sudden increase places great strain on your arteries and the heart itself. Should this scenario be frequently repeated, the associated stress can damage your entire circulatory system.

Long-Term Effects

Heart disease can cause many long-term effects on the body when left untreated. It depends on the person and the type of heart disease they have.

Some long-term effects include:

  • Cognitive decline
  • Damage to the kidneys, liver and brain.
  • Increased mortality risk
  • Increased risk of heart attacks, arrhythmias, heart failure and stroke

How does Sleep Apnoea damage the heart?

Sleep Apnoea causes the heart to work harder and can lead to changes in the structure and function of the heart, such as thickening of the heart muscle, enlargement of the right side of the heart, and increased risk of stroke and other cardiac events. Sleep Apnoea can lead to various cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure, stroke, and abnormal heart rhythms. It can also increase the risk of heart failure, arrhythmias, and sudden cardiac death.

The symptoms of Sleep Apnoea range from severe snoring to choking during sleep.

Increased carbon dioxide levels (Hypercapnia)

Sleep Apnoea regularly deprives the body of oxygen, which significantly impacts the body’s ability to function effectively. Lower oxygen levels in your blood correlate to a higher concentration of carbon dioxide. Too much carbon dioxide in the bloodstream is known ashypercapnia. Carbon dioxide will starve your muscles of the crucial nutrients required to function correctly. This debilitatingly impacts your heart, placing it under greater strain throughout the day and possibly leading to significant issues such as irregular heartbeats and atrial fibrillation.

Can heart damage from Sleep Apnoea be reversed?

Unfortunately, if OSA is left untreated, the onset and development of heart disease is irreversible. However, monitoring and managing the disease can reduce its impact on your body.

Solutions

If you have symptoms of Sleep Apnoea, taking an In-Home Sleep Test or sleep study is strongly advised. 

We should also highlight that you will need to take a more proactive approach regarding your lifestyle.  

Some expert recommendations include the following:

  • Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine, particularly before going to sleep.
  • Reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption.
  • Implementing an exercise programme.
  • Reducing the amount of saturated fat in your diet.
  • Monitoring your blood pressure regularly.
  • Avoiding smoking.

Three ways to monitor your heart health at home

  1. Avoid foods high in saturated fats: Foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol have been linked to cardiovascular heart conditions such as Heart Disease. Foods which are high in saturated fat include red meat, whole milk, cheese, cream, butter, palm oil and dark-meat poultry
  2. Get a home blood pressure monitor (BP monitor)‍: A blood pressure monitor records the pressure of the circulating blood against your blood vessels. High blood pressure  (Hypertension) can lead to the development of heart disorders, stroke, and kidney disease. An ideal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg or below. Self-monitoring is an efficient part of heart healthcare. Some studies suggest that regular monitoring at home leads to lowering blood pressure. It also helps patients understand how dietary and lifestyle habits modulate their BP.
  3. Monitoring your pulse: Testing your pulse at home is a simple and effective way of monitoring your heart rate. It can help you identify any irregularities in your heart rate, such as a rapid or slow heartbeat. It can also track your progress when exercising, as it can help you determine if you are working out within your target heart rate range. Monitoring your pulse can also be useful for detecting signs of stress or anxiety.

For more information on heart disease, visit the British Heart Foundation: https://www.bhf.org.uk/

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Do not hesitate to contact us for further help and advice.

WatchPAT In-Home Sleep Test | Intus Healthcare

In-Home Sleep Apnoea Test

The best way to determine whether or not you have Obstructive Sleep Apnoea is to take an in-home Sleep Apnoea test

The sleep test is easy-to-use and only requires data from a single night of sleep. Once the data is received, it is reviewed by our NHS-trained sleep test specialists. If OSA is confirmed, they will be able to make treatment recommendations. 

Helpful Devices

References

  • Bots SH, Peters SAE, Woodward M (2017) Sex differences in coronary heart disease and stroke mortality: a global assessment of the effect of ageing between 1980 and 2010. BMJ Global Health. Available at: https://gh.bmj.com/content/2/2/e000298. Accessed June 2023.
  • Jean-Louis G, Zizi F, Clark LT, Brown CD, McFarlane SI (2008). Obstructive sleep apnea and cardiovascular disease: role of the metabolic syndrome and its components. J Clin Sleep Med. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2546461/. Accessed June 2023.