Cardiovascular Consequences of Sleep Apnea

Untreated Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) can put a dangerous strain on your heart and overall cardiovascular system – especially if you don’t treat your OSA effectively.


Cardiovascular Problems & Sleep Apnea

When Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) remains untreated, several serious cardiovascular conditions can occur. For instance, with OSA, you’re more likely to experience high blood pressure – also known as hypertension – and/or have difficulty lowering your blood pressure. If you suffer from OSA, there’s a 50% chance that you’ll also suffer from hypertension.

Along with increased risk for hypertension, individuals with OSA are also more likely to develop coronary artery disease (also known as the hardening of the arteries). With this condition, the small blood vessels that supply oxygen and blood to your heart narrow to such a degree that it can lead to heart damage and heart attacks. Research has shown that those living with untreated OSA are twice as likely to experience a heart attack in the future as those without OSA. Further, approximately 70% of those admitted to the hospital for coronary artery disease have also been found to be suffering from OSA.

Along with high blood pressure and coronary artery disease, another cardiovascular risk accompanying OSA is the development of an irregular heartbeat. This can manifest as conditions known as atrial fibrillation – a type of irregular heartbeat – or bradycardia, a slow heart rate. Individuals with severe OSA are four times more likely to experience atrial fibrillation than those without OSA, and leaving your OSA untreated may cause much more difficulty controlling it.

Reasons Behind OSA & Cardiovascular Conditions

Though researchers are still learning about the exact ways in which sleep apnea affects the cardiovascular system and contributes to heart disease, there are several pathways observed to be behind it. By definition, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) causes you to experience frequent pauses in your breathing, which in turn lowers the oxygen levels in your blood. Frequent changes in oxygen levels can cause significant bodily stress, also known as oxidative stress. This can result in negative neurochemical and physiological reactions, both of which increase your risk for heart disease.

In addition to oxidative stress, lowered oxygen levels in your body can also activate the nervous system responsible for reacting to dangerous or stressful situations. This triggers your body to effectively gasp for air – sometimes enough to wake you up at night – repeatedly. The result? Raised blood pressure, which can either contribute to the development of hypertension or make existing hypertension worse.

Repeated changes in the chest cavity that occur when someone with OSA attempts to breathe with an obstructed upper airway can also affect the heart negatively. These repetitive pressure changes caused by unsuccessful, forced inhalations can potentially cause significant heart damage. This includes but is not limited to an irregular heartbeat, coronary artery disease, and even heart failure,

Does Treating OSA Treat Heart Disease?

There are many comorbidities associated with untreated OSA, in addition to the cardiovascular conditions described above.  But treatment for OSA is only as effective as compliance: the patient’s ability or desire to use the treatment as prescribed.  Despite the frequently prescribed Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (or CPAP) therapy, many patients find it challenging to maintain compliance, which directly impacts their ability to address OSA risk factors.

Treating mild to moderate Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) with a SomnoMed oral device can help you control the symptoms of your sleep apnea, and therefore also prevent or control the heart-related problems associated with it. Oral appliances, like our SomnoDent® Avant, move your jaw and tongue forward while you sleep to open up your airway and treat your sleep apnea effectively.

If you find that you’re experiencing cardiovascular symptoms such as heart failure, irregular heartbeats, and/or hypertension – and you also have trouble breathing at night (or your bed partner tells you that you gasp, snore, or stop breathing at night) – speak with your healthcare provider about referring you for a sleep study. We can help you every step of your journey:



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