Sleep apnea, a familiar yet often undiagnosed sleep disorder, has been increasingly recognized as a risk for heart disease. One of the characteristics of this condition is pauses in breathing during sleep, which affects your rest quality and poses a threat to cardiovascular health. These pauses can occur multiple times an hour, leading to decreased oxygen levels in the blood.

Sleep apnea comes in two forms: obstructive (OSA) and central (CSA). The most common, OSA, occurs when the throat muscles intermittently relax and block the airway during sleep. On the other hand, CSA involves the brain failing to signal the muscles to breathe due to instability in the respiratory control center.

Research has established a strong correlation between sleep apnea and cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension, arrhythmias, coronary artery disease, heart failure, and stroke. The repeated drop in oxygen levels and disrupted sleep patterns associated with sleep apnea can significantly strain the heart and blood vessels, contributing to developing or exacerbating heart-related conditions.

The primary component linking sleep apnea and heart disease is oxygen deprivation and re-oxygenation during apneic events that can lead to inflammation, oxidative stress, and sympathetic nervous system activation, which can negatively affect cardiovascular health. These drops in oxygen can also lead to increased blood pressure, which, if left untreated, can elevate the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Several treatment options exist to manage sleep apnea and its impact on heart health. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy involves wearing a mask that delivers a steady stream of air to keep the airways open and is the most common and practical approach. Lifestyle changes, such as weight loss, regular exercise, and avoiding alcohol and sedatives, can also contribute to alleviating symptoms.

It is important to raise awareness about the relationship between sleep apnea and heart disease, as early detection and intervention can significantly reduce the associated cardiovascular risks. Individuals experiencing symptoms such as loud snoring, daytime fatigue, and witnessed pauses in breathing or gasping during sleep should seek evaluation by a healthcare professional.

Understanding the link between sleep apnea and heart disease stresses the importance of the overall healthcare approach, where managing one condition can positively influence the trajectory of another.

Breathe PA offers patient-friendly sleep apnea education, program resources, and patient assistance information for those needing support and resources. For more information please visit breathepa.org.