Sleep Apnoea and Heart Disease

Sleep Apnoea and Heart Disease

The Important Link Between Sleep Apnoea and Heart Disease

“Heart Attack” Image by Pexels from Pixabay.

Anyone who has experienced obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) for an extended period is well aware of its most common debilitating effects. Some of these include feelings of lethargy throughout the day, excessive snoring, suddenly awaking short of breath, and a lower immune system. This is why it is essential to be tested, know your OSA status and receive effective treatment.
However, we also need to keep in mind that OSA is associated with a host of other rather insidious conditions that might not appear to be initially related. Obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension) could also all fall within this category. It nonetheless needs to be mentioned that cardiovascular disease is arguably one of the most serious situations which have been linked with OSA.


Heart Disease Conditions

Heart disease includes conditions that narrow or block blood vessels (coronary heart disease). Heart disease also covers conditions that affect your heart’s muscle, valves or cause abnormal rhythms (arrhythmias).


The Undeniable Relationship Between OSA and Heart Disease

We first need to examine the mechanics of OSA to understand the link with cardiovascular disorders. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by an involuntary narrowing of the airways while you sleep. As a result, your body becomes deprived of oxygen as it becomes more difficult to breathe. This is why many sufferers will snore loudly and wake up gasping for breath on occasion. So, how might OSA lead to issues with your heart? The answer to this question involves several key points. Let’s examine each one in greater detail.


Lower Blood Pressure

As mentioned in the previous section, OSA will cause your airways to narrow while asleep. Therefore your body is not able to receive the required amount of oxygen, and your overall blood pressure will begin to drop. Although your autonomous nervous system will eventually induce arousal, we need to keep in mind that muscles which are temporarily starved of oxygen can suffer damage. The same is true with regards to your heart. 

Repeated bouts of OSA will take their toll on the smooth muscle that lines your heart, leading to increased 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 addressing OSA is indeed critical. 


The Issue of 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 a significant amount of 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. 


A Condition Known as “Micro-Arousal”

This lesser-known scenario is equally important when talking about the relationship between OSA and heart disease. When you suddenly stop breathing during the overnight hours, and as the oxygen levels within your blood begin to drop, the body will initiate an instinctual response — this response involves quickly raising your heart rate to accommodate for your extremely low blood pressure. 

The main issue here is that such a sudden increase will place a great deal of strain upon your arteries and the heart itself. Should this scenario be frequently repeated, the associated stress can damage your entire circulatory system. 


Raised Carbon Dioxide Levels

It only stands to reason that lower levels of oxygen within your blood will correlate to a higher concentration of carbon dioxide. It is a well-known fact that carbon dioxide will starve your muscles of the crucial nutrients which are required for them to function correctly. 

This has a debilitating impact upon your heart, placing it under greater strain throughout the day and possibly leading to significant issues such as irregular heartbeats and atrial fibrillation. The point is that regularly depriving the body of oxygen has a significant impact on your body.  


Dietary and Lifestyle Issues to Take Into Account

The other side involves how OSA can impact your overall lifestyle. Those who are consistently tired are less likely to engage in healthy activities such as jogging or a regular exercise programme. They are prone to weight gain, and they will often embrace a decidedly poor diet. Each of these habits has been linked to problems with the heart, strokes and even premature death.

This is why breaking the OSA cycle is critical. Not only will you need to appreciate the potential severity of the conditions mentioned above, but it is also prudent to embrace the appropriate lifestyle choices. The question now involves how these goals can be accomplished within a realistic time frame. Let us look at some professional advice as well as how medical intervention can prove to be an immense help. 


The Importance of a Sleep Test and a CPAP Machine

The best way to determine whether or not obstructive sleep apnoea is present is to take an at-home sleep test. This examination will require only a single night to complete, and once the results have been obtained, they will be reviewed by our sleep specialists. Assuming that OSA is found, he or she will make several recommendations. One of the most common is to use what is known as a continuous positive airway pressure machine.

Otherwise known as a CPAP, this apparatus consists of a pump that pressurises air into a mask that is worn while asleep. The main principle is that the increased air pressure will help your airways will remain open while sleeping. Thus, your body is capable of obtaining the appropriate amount of oxygen. You will sleep much better, and over time, many of the serious situations mentioned earlier in this article can be averted. 


What Can be Done to Decrease the Chances of Developing Cardiovascular Disease?

Although there is no denying the critical importance of obtaining a sleep test (or sleep study) from a sleep specialist, we should also highlight the fact that you will need to take a more proactive approach in regards to your lifestyle. Some expert recommendations include:

  • avoiding stimulants such as alcohol and caffeine; particularly before going to sleep.
  • Reducing or eliminating your consumption of alcohol.
  • Implementing an exercise programme.
  • Reducing the amount of dietary saturated fat.
  • Monitoring your blood pressure regularly.

Above all, always remember that sleep apnoea is no longer an incurable condition. There are numerous options at your disposal. However, the first step always involves determining if you are suffering from OSA.

Consult your doctor, or if you’re seeking a private healthcare solution, our sleep test is completely confidential, and we aim to return results in a week. Plus our in-home sleep test can be done in the comfort of your own home. If you suffer from OSA, we will help you start the treatment and hopefully, before it takes a toll on your heart and overall health. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Author Jenny Hall