Healthy Heart

Sleep Apnea Is a Heartbreaker

Sleep Apnea Is a Heartbreaker

Everyone knows that snoring is no fun for the snorer or anyone who sleeps within earshot. Snoring has become the butt of many sitcom jokes, but this symptom is much more serious than people believe. Some snorers repeatedly stop breathing for short periods of time in their sleep. While it isn’t common for people to completely stop breathing in their sleep as a result, this jerky pattern can lead to its own cardiovascular issues as well as be a part of a potentially life-threatening disorder. This shaky breathing pattern has a diagnosis: sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a condition in which the patient might undergo breathing lapses from five to 30  times per sleep cycle. These lapses in breathing disrupt the sleeper and he or she will noisily gasp for air. These stops do not allow for replenishing and quality sleep, which can leave the person groggy and disoriented the next day. Sleep apnea is also related to other, more fatal ailments, like high blood pressure, arrhythmia, stroke, and heart failure.

Currently, heart disease is the leading cause of death among people living in the United States. Stroke is also a high ranking cause of death and disability. Issues around high blood pressure are closely linked to both of those conditions, which greatly increases the likelihood of both ailments.

“The evidence is very strong for the relationship between sleep apnea and hypertension and cardiovascular disease generally, so people really need to know that,” explained Donna Arnett Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health, which is a school housed at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and the newly appointed president of the American Heart Association.       

Sleep apnea: A common but major problem 

For every five adults in the United States, one person suffers from at least mild sleep apnea, which is a whopping twenty percent of the population. Sleep apnea is more than just snoring, and it affects more men than women, according to Dr. Arnett. The most diagnosed type of sleep apnea is called obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when there is weight on the upper chest and neck, which contribute to disrupting the flow of air. Another type of sleep apnea, called central sleep apnea, is much less diagnosed and is not related to weight.

Read on to learn how both forms of this sleep disorder can affect your heart.