The medical community is issuing a stern warning to people who suffer from untreated sleep apnea: You could be at risk for heart failure.
Doctors say sleep apnea, a momentary stop of breathing that occurs repeatedly while you sleep, could cause serious damage to your heart.
The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Heart Damage
“There is a very strong association between sleep apnea and cardiac arrhythmia. Research also shows episodes of upper airway collapse in sleep apnea may trigger arrhythmia events,” says Reena Mehra, MD, Director of Sleep Disorders Research in the Sleep Center of the Neurologic Institute at Cleveland Clinic.
Other ways that sleep apnea can increase risk of arrhythmias and heart failure include:
- Repeated episodes of oxygen lowering (what doctors call hypoxia)
- Changes in carbon dioxide levels
- Direct effects on the heart due to pressure changes within the chest
- Increased levels of markers of inflammation
What Happens When Sleep Apnea Causes You to Stop Breathing
When you stop breathing, your heart rate drops and your body becomes deprived of oxygen. Then, your involuntary reflexes cause you to startle awake at the end of that period of not breathing. When this occurs, your heart rate tends to accelerate quickly and your blood pressure rises. When this process happens over-and-over again, your body will begin to experience chronic effects of sleep apnea, like:
- High blood pressure
- Thickening of the heart walls due to an increased work load
- The struck of the heart begins to change
Two Types of Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea can be categorized into two types:
- Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when an obstruction of your airway results in the inability to breathe normally during sleep. This form of the disorder is primarily associated with obesity and also more common in men and with increasing age. There are also likely genetic factors at play involving control of breathing that are independent of obesity.
- Central sleep apnea occurs when your brain does not send the proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. This form of the disorder is less common.
How to Know If You Have a Sleep Apnea Problem
Most often, it’s your spouse who will notice that you are snoring heavily and having periods where you stop breathing or wake up abruptly with shortness of breath.
If you believe you suffer from sleep apnea — it’s important that you seek treatment immediately. Contact us for an immediate evaluation and consultation where we can review all of the signs and symptoms of sleep apnea. In addition to general dental care, we also provide additional services such as sleep apnea treatment, cosmetic dentistry, dental implants, pain management, and so much more.
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