There are several types of sleep apnea that exist, but the most frequently diagnosed is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which occurs when muscles relax in the throat causing an airway blockage. The blockage causes people to snore and/or wake up during the night multiple times. A victim to this disorder becomes sleepy during the day, turning it into the source of poor performance at work and even car crashes. While day time sleepiness and fatigue are largely reported as the most common symptoms by patients, OSA can have a bad effect on the cardiovascular system that often goes unnoticed.
“The evidence is very strong for the relationship between sleep apnea and hypertension and cardiovascular disease generally, so people really need to know that,” said Donna Arnett, Ph.D., chair and professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the president of the American Heart Association. According to an American Thoracic Society study of people with hypertension, about 30% have obstructive sleep apnea. If they have obstructive sleep apnea, there is a 50% chance they also have hypertension.
Why does blood pressure rise due to sleep apnea? When someone who suffers from sleep apnea stops breathing during the night, their oxygen levels fall drastically. The effects of this is that the brain will tell the blood vessels to increase pressure by narrowing or tightening up so that the body can receive more oxygen flow. In a sleep study, a sleep doctor can measure the severity of the sleep apnea and determine whether the patient has mild sleep apnea, characterized by five to 15 episodes per hour; moderate sleep apnea, defined by 15 to 30 per hour; or severe sleep apnea, meaning more than 30 each hour.
Oral appliance therapy can help control the symptoms of sleep apnea and prevent heart-related problems associated with sleep apnea. “The good news is treatment that keeps the breathing passages open and oxygen flowing can yield fast results,” Dr. Arnett said. “Blood pressure comes down really quite quickly.”
Reference sleepfoundation.org, heart.org, thoracic.org, harvard.edu
Updated August 4th 2017
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