Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a dangerous, chronic disease that keeps nearly 30 million American adults from restful sleep. OSA involves the repeated collapse of the upper airway during sleep, and it can cause grave consequences to your heart if left untreated. There are five key warning signs and risk factors for sleep apnea: snoring, choking or gasping during sleep, fatigue or daytime sleepiness, obesity (BMI of 30 or higher) and high blood pressure.
If untreated, this common and serious sleep disorder can be devastating to heart health. According to a report published in Sleep & Breathing, people with untreated, severe obstructive sleep apnea are more than two times more likely to die from heart disease. One easy way to remember the severity of sleep apnea is with an acronym: sleep apnea hurts HEARTS by increasing the risk of:
H – Heart failure
E – Elevated blood pressure
A – Atrial fibrillation
R – Resistant hypertension
T – Type 2 diabetes
S – Stroke
Heart failure affects roughly six million Americans, and is the leading cause of hospitalization of Americans over 65 years old. According to a report in the journal Circulation, middle-aged men with severe obstructive sleep apnea are 58 percent more likely to develop heart failure. Additionally, individuals with severe obstructive sleep apnea are at an increased risk of heart failure according to the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
Elevated Blood Pressure
Approximately one in three American adults – 75 million of us – have high blood pressure. Between 30 to 40 percent of individuals with high blood pressure also have sleep apnea. Research published in the American Journal of Physiology suggests that one night’s sleep with severe obstructive sleep apnea can impair the body’s ability to regulate blood pressure. Despite aggressive medication use, severe obstructive sleep apnea leads to poor blood pressure control, according to a report in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.
Atrial fibrillation (Afib) occurs when there is an abnormal heart rhythm that causes poor blood flow. Afib can increase the risk of other heart problems such as stroke. Approximately 3-6 million Americans have Afib, with nine percent of adults over 65 suffering from the disorder. For individuals who have obstructive sleep apnea, the risk of Afib is two to four times higher, according to the Journal of Atrial Fibrillation. Additionally, a report in Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology found that patients with untreated, severe obstructive sleep apnea are eight times more likely to fail treatment for Afib.
As the number of Americans with high blood pressure rises, so too does the number of individuals who have resistant hypertension. These are the individuals who cannot get their high blood pressure under control – and not for lack of trying with lifestyle changes and medications. Obstructive sleep apnea is considered the most common secondary cause of drug-resistant hypertension. Up to 85 percent of people with treatment-resistant hypertension have sleep apnea, according to ChronoPhysiology and Therapy.
Type 2 Diabetes
Currently, 29 million people in the United States have Type 2 diabetes. For those with Type 2 diabetes and untreated obstructive sleep apnea, the more severe the sleep disorder, the poorer the glucose control. Approximately seven in 10 individuals with Type 2 diabetes have untreated sleep apnea, according to Frontiers in Neurology.
Stroke is the leading cause of disability in the United States, and the fifth highest cause of death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 795,000 people have a stroke each year. Left untreated, individuals with severe obstructive sleep apnea are two times more likely to have a stroke, according to a report in the International Journal of Cardiology. Additional research described in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found individuals with untreated, severe obstructive sleep apnea are also at an increased risk for stroke and coronary artery disease.
Fortunately, effective treatments for obstructive sleep apnea may alleviate and reverse these risks. Following diagnosis by a board-certified sleep medicine physician, the most commonly prescribed treatment for sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure therapy, or CPAP.
Anyone who has symptoms of sleep apnea, such as snoring or choking in their sleep, or a heart problem, should talk to their doctor about obstructive sleep apnea. To find an accredited sleep center near you, or to learn how you can guard your heart from sleep apnea to avoid being #SnoredtoDeath, visit www.projecthealthysleep.org.