Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common sleep disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. While its primary hallmark is disrupted breathing during sleep, OSA can have far-reaching consequences beyond just fatigue, snoring and daytime sleepiness. One of the most concerning aspects of OSA is its potential impact on cardiovascular health.
Before we delve into its cardiovascular effects, it's essential to have a basic understanding of what OSA entails. OSA occurs when the upper airway becomes partially or completely blocked during sleep, leading to interruptions in breathing. These obstructed airways, causing interruptions, known as apneas or hypopneas, can occur multiple times per hour, significantly reducing the amount of oxygen delivered to vital organs, including the heart.
The Cardiovascular Effects of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
- Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
One of the most prominent cardiovascular impacts of OSA is its negative impact on blood pressure. The intermittent drops in oxygen levels and the sudden surges of adrenaline that accompany apneas can lead to elevated blood pressure levels. Over time, this chronic elevation in blood pressure can strain the heart and increase the risk of other cardiovascular conditions.
- Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
OSA has been linked to an increased risk of developing coronary artery disease (CAD). The repeated episodes of oxygen deprivation can trigger inflammation and oxidative stress, contributing to the formation of atherosclerotic plaques in the coronary arteries. These plaques can restrict blood flow to the heart, potentially leading to angina or even heart attacks.
Individuals with OSA are more likely to experience irregular heart rhythms, known as arrhythmias. The disruptions in oxygen supply can lead to electrical instability in the heart, causing conditions like atrial fibrillation (AFib). Arrhythmias can be especially problematic for individuals with pre-existing heart conditions. Did you know: cardiologists will order a sleep study prior to treating AFib, due to the concern of the arrythmia returning with untreated OSA.
- Heart Failure
The combination of hypertension, CAD, and arrhythmias can place immense strain on the heart, potentially leading to heart failure. In heart failure, the heart struggles to pump blood efficiently, leading to symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, and fluid retention.
OSA has been identified as an independent risk factor for stroke. The reduced oxygen levels and increased blood pressure associated with OSA can contribute to the formation of blood clots and damage to blood vessel walls, increasing the likelihood of a stroke.
The relationship between obstructive sleep apnea and cardiovascular health is complex and multifaceted. Recognizing the potential cardiovascular consequences of OSA underscores the importance of timely diagnosis and effective management. For individuals with OSA, seeking medical intervention and making lifestyle modifications can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications. By shedding light on this connection, we can work towards a future where individuals with OSA receive comprehensive care that addresses both their sleep and cardiovascular needs. Your dental sleep specialist at Chase Dental SleepCare can discuss your cardiovascular concerns and correspond directly with your cardiologist or primary care physician to ensure a collaborative approach.