Did You Know Your Sleep Apnea Can Increase Your Risk of Heart Rhythm Problems?

Sleep apnea affects more than 18 million adults in the United States, putting them at risk for daytime fatigue, cognitive impairment, and, yes, heart problems, namely cardiac arrhythmia. In fact, sleep apnea is present in a whopping 50% of those who have heart failure or atrial fibrillation.

At Heart Rhythm Associates, Dr. Van H. De Bruyn specializes in heart health problems, providing patients in Little Rock, Arkansas, with the services they need for healthy cardiac function. While many heart problems are primary, there are a host of conditions that can cause secondary issues that involve your heart health, and sleep apnea ranks among the more common.

Here’s a look at how sleep apnea can increase your risk of heart rhythm problems.

Behind sleep apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which the soft tissues at the back of your throat collapse and block your airways while you sleep, depriving your body of oxygen for at least 10 seconds. When your brain registers the absence of oxygen, it wakes you so that you can clear your airways. 

While this is a serious problem in and of itself, the real issue with sleep apnea is that it occurs dozens of times an hour, sometimes up to 400 times a night.

This repeated rousing not only leads to a lack of restorative sleep (for you and your bedmate). When it’s combined with oxygen deprivation, the results can be far-reaching and contribute to a number of different problems, including:

The bottom line is that while we’re still researching the direct link between sleep apnea and conditions like arrhythmia, there’s little doubt that there is a connection. 

The connection between sleep apnea and arrhythmia

There’s much that the medical world still needs to understand about the effect that sleep can have on the human body, but we’re making progress in identifying some of the problems that come with lack of sleep. And with sleep apnea, the problem is further compounded by the insufficient breathing and oxygen intake.

There’s research that has shown that sleep apnea can trigger an irregular heart rhythm, which is likely due to:

To better understand what happens to your cardiovascular system with sleep apnea, let’s look at one episode. When the soft tissues in your throat collapse, your body is not only deprived of oxygen, the apnea also allows carbon dioxide to linger longer in your system. When your brain causes you to wake, you start and suck in air, which causes your heart to jump into action to deliver the oxygen. 

In other words, your heart rate can change with each episode as it works to keep up with your irregular breathing.

Over time, sleep apnea can take a toll on your heart health, especially if your sleep apnea occurs 20, 30, or even 40 times an hour, each time repeating the cycle we outline above.

If you’re concerned about the effect that sleep apnea is having on your heart health, please contact us so that we can set up an evaluation.

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