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The Link Between Sleep Apnoea and Atrial Fibrillation

Sleep Apnoea

The Link Between Sleep Apnoea and Atrial Fibrillation

It is known that millions of individuals throughout the United Kingdom suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). There are countless millions more who might not be aware that this condition even exists. 

Anyone who is already familiar with OSA (such as those who have been recently diagnosed) are likely cognisant that it can lead to many detrimental effects. 

Not only will a lack of sleep lead to tiredness and malaise throughout the day, but OSA has been linked to other seemingly extraneous health issues such as diabetes and obesity. 

While these are indeed concerns to be addressed, we also need to keep in mind that scientists have found a correlation between a lack of sleep and dangerous heart problems. A condition known as atrial fibrillation is of particular concern and it is therefore wise to take a look at this concept in greater detail so that you will be able to avoid what could otherwise represent a life-threatening situation. 

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm. Studies estimate that this condition affects as many as one million people throughout the United Kingdom. Furthermore, it is thought that as many as seven out of 100 individuals who are over the age of 65 will experience a fibrillation from time to time. 

Atrial fibrillation is caused by incorrect electrical signals that are sent to the cardiac muscles. As a result, they expand and contract at the incorrect times. This is often referred to as a “flutter” and it can normally be detected with the use of an EKG (electrocardiogram). 

Why Might Atrial Fibrillation be Dangerous?

In and of itself, a normal fibrillation will usually cause nothing more than a transient period of discomfort (such as a sudden pounding within the chest or the feeling as if you may have “skipped” a heartbeat). The danger results from a prolonged exposure to such impulses. 

Over time, the cardiovascular muscles can thicken, the blood pressure can become dangerously high and in severe cases, a stroke or similar consequence may occur. This is why atrial fibrillation needs to be taken seriously. It is therefore crucial to appreciate the relationship between OSA and this type of cardiac issue. Let’s take a more in-depth look.

Why Might OSA Increase the Risk?

There are several theories behind this tentative relationship. However, the most prevalent involves the fact that OSA has been linked to high blood pressure (hypertension) thanks to the results of numerous studies. This is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The main takeaway point is that sleep apnoea forces the cardiac muscles to work harder in order to deliver the required levels of oxygen to the rest of the body. 

Over time, such heightened levels of stress can lead to additional issues such as:

  • Chronically low levels of oxygen within the bloodstream. 
  • Frequent drops in the number of heartbeats per minute.
  • A stiffening of the cardiac muscles.
  • Circulatory problems (particularly with the extremities).

We should likewise point out that a significant number of sleep apnoea cases are related to obesity. This further exacerbates the situations mentioned above. 

For example, increased inflammation markers throughout the body have been linked to numerous other chronic issues (such as breathing problems) that may already be present.

Let’s also point out that those who are unable to breathe properly during the overnight hours are likely to experience higher levels of carbon dioxide within their blood. This can literally “starve” cells of oxygen if left untreated. 

It is therefore clear to see that there is a very real relationship between obstructive sleep apnoea and cardiac health. So, what steps can you take if you suspect that you may have sleep apnoea?

The Advantages of a Proactive Mindset

Snoring and waking up gasping for breath — these are the key symptoms to sleep apnoea. It is crucial to obtain an at-home sleep test to determine if you have obstructive sleep apnoea. 

The overnight test will quickly and clearly determine whether or not a problem exists. If you are indeed found to be suffering from OSA, treatments such as the use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine can produce amazing results. 

The health of your heart should never be taken for granted. This is why recognising and addressing any symptoms that you may have is the best way to ensure that you are able to avoid any potentially life-threatening situations.

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

To shop for the highest-quality selection of CPAP devices: https://www.cpap.co.uk/shop.html


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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