Sleep Apnoea and Heart Disease

Sleep Apnoea and Heart Disease | Intus Healthcare

Last updated on January 23rd, 2023 at 09:53 am

Is there a connection between Sleep Apnoea and Heart Disease?

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) is a serious sleep condition where a person continuously stops breathing when they sleep. 

OSA is when the airway becomes blocked or narrowed, restricting the amount of air travelling to the lungs. As the body is deprived of oxygen, breathing pauses occur (apnoea). In severe cases of Sleep Apnoea, these pauses happen more than 40 times per hour. 

It is estimated that moderate to severe Sleep Apnoea affects around 10 million people in the UK, and approximately 80% are undiagnosed. Untreated OSA can increase the risk of serious health complications, including heart failure, by 140%. This article will examine the link between Sleep Apnoea and Heart Disease.

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

Sleep disordered breathing is common is heart failure patients. All forms of untreated Sleep Apnoea such a Obstructe Sleep Apnoea and Central Sleep Apnoea put you at risk of developing heart conditions.

How does Sleep Apnoea damage the heart?

The involuntary narrowing or blockage of the airways caused by Sleep Apnoea makes breathing difficult as the lungs cannot receive the oxygen they need. Causing symptoms of Sleep Apnoea to occur, from snoring loudly to choking during sleep.

Sleep Apnoea causes lower blood pressure

Overall, Sleep Apnoea causes blood pressure to drop from the lack of oxygen. When our muscles are temporarily starved of oxygen, they can suffer damage. The same is true concerning your heart. 

OSA will take its 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 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. 

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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 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 your low blood pressure. 

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

Increase carbon dioxide levels (Hypercapnia)

Lower oxygen levels in your blood correlate to a higher concentration of carbon dioxide. Too much carbon dioxide in the bloodstream is known as hypercapnia. Carbon dioxide will starve your muscles of the crucial nutrients required to function correctly. 

This has a debilitating impact on your heart, placing it under greater strain throughout the day and possibly leading to significant issues such as irregular heartbeats and atrial fibrillation. Sleep Apnoea regularly deprives the body of oxygen, which significantly impacts your body.  

Can heart problems cause Sleep Apnoea?

Conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease put you at a higher risk of developing Obstructive Sleep Apnoea.

Can heart damage from Sleep Apnoea be reversed?

Unfortunately, if OSA is left untreated and causes the development of heart disease, it is irreversible. But you can reduce the impact it has on your body, monitoring and managing the disease. 

What is Cardiovascular Heart Disease? 

Cardiovascular 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

For more information on heart disease, visit the British Heart Foundation:

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In-Home Sleep Apnoea Test

The best way to determine whether or not Obstructive Sleep Apnoea is present is to take our in-home Sleep Apnoea test

The sleep test is easy-to-use and only requires a single night to complete. Once we receive your results, they are reviewed by our NHS-trained sleep test specialists. Assuming that OSA is found, they will make several recommendations. 

One of the most common is to use what is known as CPAP therapy (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). Depending on the severity of your Sleep Apnoea, you may also be recommended an alternative to CPAP.

What is a CPAP machine?

CPAP therapy consists of a CPAP machine providing continuous pressurised air via a CPAP tube into a CPAP mask worn while asleep. The main principle is that the increased air pressure will help your airways remain open while sleeping. 

Many CPAP machines offer an intuitive app to allow you to track and manage your CPAP settings. For example, the AirSense 10 has the optional ResMed myAir app. These apps help users understand what the numbers on the CPAP machine mean and how a CPAP machine works.

Can using a CPAP machine cause heart problems?

The simple answer is no. Using a CPAP machine helps obtain the appropriate amount of oxygen. Increasing sleep and preventing the serious situations mentioned. 

How to decrease the chances of developing Cardiovascular Disease

If you have signs 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:

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

How does diet effect Heart Disease? 

Foods igh in saturated fats and cholesteral have been linked to cardivascualer heart conditions such as Heart Disease.

OSA can impact your overall lifestyle. Those 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 often embrace a decidedly poor diet. Each of these habits has been linked to problems with the heart, strokes and even premature death.

Contact us for any advice and help. 

Author Jenny Hall