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The Important Link Between Sleep Apnoea and Heart Disease

Heart Disease Sleep Apnoea

The Important Link Between Sleep Apnoea and Heart Disease

“Heart Attack” Image by Pexels from Pixabay.
Anyone who has experienced obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) for an extended period of time is well aware of its most common debilitating effects. Some of these include feelings of lethargy throughout the day, excessive snoring, suddenly awaking short of breath, and a lower immune system. This is why it is important to obtain an accurate diagnosis so that the proper treatment options can be procured.

However, we also need to keep mind that OSA is associated with a host of other rather insidious conditions that might not appear to be initially related. Obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension) will all fall within this category. It nonetheless needs to be mentioned that cardiovascular disease is arguably one of the most serious situations which have been correlated with OSA. 

The Undeniable Relationship Between OSA and Heart Disease

We first need to examine the mechanics of OSA in order to understand the link with cardiovascular disorders. This condition is caused by an involuntary narrowing of the airways while you sleep. As a result, your body becomes deprived of oxygen as it becomes more difficult to breathe. This is why many sufferers will snore loudly and wake up gasping for breath on occasion. So, how might OSA lead to issues with your heart? The answer to this question actually involves a number of key points to examine. Let’s look at each in greater detail.

Lower Blood Pressure

As mentioned in the previous section, OSA will cause your airways to narrow while asleep. Due to the fact that your body is not able to receive the required amount of oxygen, your overall blood pressure will begin to drop. Although your autonomous nervous system will eventually induce arousal, we need to keep in mind that muscles which are temporarily starved of oxygen can suffer damage. The same holds true in regards to your heart. 

Repeated bouts of OSA will take their toll on the smooth muscle that lines your heart, leading to increased chances of developing cardiovascular disease if left untreated. We should also point out that systemic low blood pressure can be problematic for those who might already be suffering from other conditions such as diabetes, so addressing OSA is indeed critical. 

The Issue of Inflammation Markers

Issues with the heart have been associated with chemicals in the body commonly known as “inflammation markers”. These hormones tend to be present when we are under stress (both physical and mental) or if an illness is present. 

Inflammatory markers such as cortisol have been associated with weight gain, increased chances of becoming ill and problems with the heart. The main issue is that these markers tend to go unnoticed until a significant amount of damage has already been done. This is why it is a good rule of thumb to remember that the presence of OSA likely signifies that the inflammation markers throughout your body are higher than average; another reason to seek professional treatment. 

A Condition Known as “Micro-Arousal”

This lesser-known scenario is equally important when talking about the relationship between OSA and heart disease. When you suddenly stop breathing for a short amount of time during the overnight hours — and as the oxygen levels within your blood begin to drop, the body will initiate an instinctual response. This involves quickly raising your heart rate in order to accommodate for extremely low pressure. 

The main issue here is that such a sudden increase will place a great deal of strain upon your arteries and the heart itself. Should this scenario be frequently repeated, the associated stress can have a negative impact upon your entire circulatory system. 

Raised Carbon Dioxide Levels

It only stands to reason that lower levels of oxygen within your blood will correlate to a higher concentration of carbon dioxide. It is a well-known fact that carbon dioxide will starve your muscles of the important nutrients which are required for them to function properly. 

This likewise has a debilitating impact upon your heart, placing it under greater strain throughout the day and possibly leading to significant issues such as irregular heartbeats and atrial fibrillation. It is therefore clear to see that there is a bit more than meets the eye in reference to not receiving a sufficient supply of oxygen.

Dietary and Lifestyle Issues to Take Into Account

The other side of the proverbial coin involves how OSA can impact your overall lifestyle. Those who are consistently tired are less likely to engage in healthy activities such as jogging or a regular exercise programme. They are prone to weight gain and they will often embrace a decidedly poor diet. Each of these habits has likewise been linked to problems with the heart, strokes and even premature death.

This is why breaking the OSA cycle is critical. Not only will you need to appreciate the potential severity of the conditions mentioned above, but it is also prudent to embrace the appropriate lifestyle choices. The question now involves how these goals can be accomplished within a realistic time frame. Let us look at some professional advice as well as how medical intervention can prove to be an immense help. 

The Importance of a Sleep Test and a CPAP Machine

The best way to determine whether or not obstructive sleep apnoea is present is to take an at-home sleep test. This examination will require only a single night to complete and once the results have been obtained, they will be sent off to a sleep specialist. Assuming that OSA is found, he or she will make several recommendations. One of the most common is to use what is known as a continuous positive airway pressure machine.

Otherwise known as a CPAP, this apparatus consists of a pump that pressurises air and a mask that is worn while asleep. The main principle is that an increased pressure will help to ensure that your airways remain open while asleep. Thus, your body is capable of obtaining the appropriate amount of oxygen. You will sleep much better and over time, many of the serious situations mentioned earlier in this article can be averted. 

What Can be Done to Decrease the Chances of Developing Cardiovascular Disease?

Although there is no denying the critical importance of obtaining a professional diagnosis from a sleep specialist, we should also highlight the fact that you will need to take a more proactive approach in regards to your lifestyle. Some expert recommendations include:

  • avoiding stimulants such as alcohol and caffeine; particularly before going to sleep.
  • Reducing or eliminating your consumption of alcohol.
  • Implementing an exercise programme.
  • Reducing the amount of dietary saturated fat.
  • Monitoring your blood pressure on a regular basis.

Above all, always remember that sleep apnoea is no longer an incurable condition. There are numerous options at your disposal. However, the first step always involves determining if you are indeed suffering from OSA. 

This involves the aforementioned at-home sleep test so that doctors can begin to treat your condition before it takes a toll on your heart and your overall health. There is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel!

To order the Intus At-Home Sleep Test: https://www.sleeptest.co.uk/product/in-home-sleep-test/



About author: Jenny Hall is a clinical manager at Intus Healthcare’s parent company, Baywater Healthcare. She has extensive specialist clinical experience from Regional Nurse Adviser through to Senior Nurse Adviser, Service Lead and Contract Manager. She has provided leadership for the Regional Nurse Advisers ensuring best practice, implementation of National Guidance and Clinical Governance. Ms. Hall has worked with Baywater Healthcare since 2013, with leadership responsibility in delivering Home Oxygen and Long-Term Conditions services. Her clinical team focuses on delivering services closer to home which offer the NHS value with optimum clinical outcomes. Previously, Ms. Hall provided leadership to Regional Nurse Advisors with Air Products, a company providing home oxygen services to Wales, East Midlands and North London. She has served as a Senior COPD National Trainer and Nurse Adviser COPD Response with Innovex, ensuring highest competencies were maintained and best practices delivered. Ms. Hall has a Ba Honours Degree as a Registered General Nurse from Oxford Brookes University and MSc Health Studies from Staffordshire University. She completed Respiratory Education and Training Courses and the Edinburgh Sleep Course. Jenny Hall’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jenny-hall-34331b60/

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