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Sleep Apnea Related Heart Complications

If it's left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to other serious heart-related health problems such as hypertension, high blood pressure, arrhythmia, hypercapnia, stroke and heart disease. The link between heart disease and sleep apnea is still not fully understood, however.

People who are suffering from heart problems tend to have a high number of occurrences of sleep apnea. However, it isn't fully clear if the sleep apnea is the direct cause of the heart disease.

One thing that is clear is that someone who is suffering from sleep apnea has a much greater chance of developing hypertension. It has been shown that people who are suffering from both sleep apnea and high blood pressure show considerable improvement when treated for both. The same goes for sleep apnea and heart disease.

When a sleep apnea episode happens at night, the blood pressure increases because of a drop in the oxygen levels in the body. When this occurs, the brain tells the blood vessels to "tighten up" in order to get more oxygen to the brain and the heart, followed by the rest of the body.

The stoppages of breathing at night can last between 1 and 4 minutes, causing a large amount of stress to the heart. This also tends to carry forward into the daytime while awake. The mechanisms triggered by low oxygen levels in the body continue to operate during the day.

Sleep apnea sufferers have a 2.3 times greater chance of developing congestive heart failure than those who aren't dealing with it. Those suffering from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) have a 1.5 times greater chance of having a stroke.

Sleep apnea can also contribute to more complications for anyone suffering from atrial fibrillation, a condition where the upper part of the heart (the atrium) is beating out of sync with the lower part (the ventricle).

To treat atrial fibrillation, the heart is cardioverted, meaning the atrium is reset to make it beat in sync with the ventricle. Over 50% of the people who have this procedure done suffer a relapse of the atrial fibrillation. In sleep apnea sufferers, that number has been shown to increase to 80%.

Regular doctor visits and following their treatment recommendations are critical to anyone suffering from both these health problems.

Rudy Watkins writes about sleep apnea in infants and other related topics on the Apnea Guide website. Sign up for our free sleep apnea newsletter at

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