How Untreated Sleep Apnea Can Affect Your Cardiovascular Health 

Feb 02, 2024
How Untreated Sleep Apnea Can Affect Your Cardiovascular Health 
Most of us can agree that poor sleep can leave you feeling groggy and grumpy. Did you know that sleep apnea, a common sleep disorder, can also affect your heart health?  

February is American Heart Month, the perfect time to learn more about preventing heart disease. And while it may seem like a mere inconvenience, untreated sleep apnea can have profound consequences on your cardiovascular health.

Philip T. Ho, MD, FACS, and his team at Silicon Valley ENT & Sinus Center in Los Gatos, California, offer outstanding care for individuals experiencing various ear, nose, and throat conditions. They also specialize in diagnosing and treating sleep apnea.

Read what our team says about the connection between sleep apnea and cardiovascular issues and why early diagnosis and effective management are crucial.

Understanding sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder characterized by interrupted breathing during sleep. There are three main types: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea syndrome (a combination of both).

OSA, the most prevalent form, occurs when the muscles in the throat relax excessively, leading to partial or complete blockage of the airway. This leads to pauses in breathing that can occur 30 times or more an hour, making it very difficult to sleep through the night.

Symptoms of OSA include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Gasping as you sleep
  • Morning headache
  • Irritability
  • Daytime grogginess

Your partner may also notice that you seem to stop breathing briefly during the night.

Sleep apnea and your cardiovascular health

Individuals with untreated sleep apnea are at a higher risk of developing or worsening existing cardiovascular conditions. Here are some ways that sleep apnea can impact the cardiovascular system:

Hypertension (high blood pressure)

The intermittent drops in oxygen levels during apnea episodes trigger the release of stress hormones, leading to increased blood pressure. Over time, this sustained pressure can result in hypertension, a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Cardiac arrhythmias

Sleep apnea has been linked to various irregular heart rhythms, known as arrhythmias. The disruptions in breathing can affect the heart's electrical system, potentially leading to atrial fibrillation or other arrhythmias. These conditions, if left untreated, may increase the risk of stroke and heart failure.

Coronary artery disease

The decreased oxygen supply to the heart due to interrupted breathing during sleep can contribute to the development and progression of CAD (coronary artery disease). CAD occurs when plaques form in the coronary arteries, restricting blood flow to the heart muscle.

Heart failure

Untreated sleep apnea can strain the heart. As the heart becomes less efficient at pumping blood, the risk of congestive heart failure increases, impacting your overall cardiovascular function.

Treating sleep apnea

Dr. Ho develops a sleep apnea treatment plan based on your evaluation results. Your plan might include changes in lifestyle habits, such as weight loss, decreasing alcohol use, or sleeping on your side.

Other therapies include surgery or implants to prevent the soft tissue collapse that causes obstructive sleep apnea. You may also benefit from continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or the use of a customized oral appliance to keep airways open.

If you suspect you have sleep apnea, call or message today schedule an evaluation with Dr. Ho today Silicon Valley ENT & Sinus Center.