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Sleep Apnea and Heart Conditions

When one thinks about the health risks of sleep apnea, it may be easy to disregard heart failure as a potential symptom. However, physicians have known for years that the two coincide, though sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed when patients are being treated for heart failure.

Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when someone repeatedly stops and starts breathing during sleep, due to the muscles in the airway relaxing, which leads to oxygen deprivation. To combat this, doctors typically prescribe a CPAP, which stands for “continuous positive airway pressure.” Research has shown that there is a possible connection between improving a patient’s heart health and controlling his or her sleep apnea simultaneously.

Common signs that a person may be suffering from sleep apnea include constant fatigue, snoring while asleep, and morning headaches. A symptom that is sometimes dismissed is shortness of breath. While this can be due to a poor night’s sleep, it is a frequent sign of heart problems.

Central sleep apnea is a condition in which the person simply “forgets” to breath when the brain fails to send the correct signals to the lungs allowing for inhalation. The cause of this sleep disorder is believed to be due to carbon dioxide levels in the blood, which can be affected by lung congestion or weak heart muscles.

Sleep disordered breathing can also cause coronary heart disease and hypertension. By using a CPAP, patients who suffer from cardiovascular issues can actually experience lowered blood pressure, and those who have irregular heartbeats decrease their chances of recurrence by 40%.

It is extremely important to seek treatment for sleep apnea and heart conditions alike. While it is common for patients with sleep apnea to not recognize that they suffer from the condition, in which case they should consult a family member, the symptoms experienced when awake can be translated to both a sleep disorder or heart condition. With that said, it is just as important for physicians to understand the connection between the two, and properly diagnose/test these patients.
If you or a loved one suffer from sleep apnea, or have a family history of heart conditions, seek medical attention, as medication and treatment for either ailment could benefit both.