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How Sleep Apnea Affects Your Cardiovascular Health

By March 28, 2023Sleep Medicine
sleepy man wakes up after sleep apnea episodes

Sleep apnea is an extremely common sleep disorder that affects millions of people across the globe. People with the condition often wake up multiple times a night because their upper airways are partially or completely blocked. The result is poor sleep quality, oxygen desaturation, and numerous systemic health issues, including cardiovascular disease. Luckily, sleep medicine can help.


Are you waking up groggy, short of breath, or anxious? Obstructive sleep apnea might be to blame. Dr. Timothy Mickiewicz can help you diagnose the condition and explore simple sleep medicine treatments for restful sleep. Contact our sleep dentist in Sacramento, CA, today at (916) 469-9178 to get the life-changing care you deserve.


Repeated disruptions to sleep can have a significant impact on all systems of the body, including the cardiovascular system. In today’s blog post, we explore the shocking link between sleep apnea and heart health.  

The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Systemic Health

There is an undeniable link between sleep apnea and numerous systemic health issues. For example, sleep experts have found that the condition may lead to or worsen non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which may eventually lead to liver failure.


But, the liver isn’t the only organ affected by obstructive sleep apnea. The condition can have a major impact on several bodily systems, including:

  • The cardiovascular system
  • The renal system
  • The nervous system
  • The pulmonary system
  • The endocrine system


The condition truly is a pervasive problem that can impact all facets of your life, including your mental health. Some research suggests that untreated sleep apnea can result in increased anxiety, stress, and depression. Even more concerningly, it may trigger manic or schizophrenic episodes that can drastically affect your day-to-day life.


It’s safe to say that the link between sleep health and systemic health is profound. That’s why it is so important to understand the effect that sleep apnea has on the entire body, especially the heart. 


Now that we’ve illustrated the link between overall health and sleep health, let’s focus on sleep apnea’s effect on the cardiovascular system. 

The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Heart Health

Researchers have linked sleep apnea to several cardiovascular diseases, including:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure


Scientists do not fully understand the ways in which sleep apnea affects the whole cardiovascular system. However, experts suspect that several factors may be involved. Let’s explore how medical professionals believe sleep apnea contributes to cardiovascular diseases.


One of the primary ways that sleep apnea affects cardiovascular health is through its impact on blood pressure. When a person experiences an episode, the body is briefly deprived of oxygen. This triggers the release of adrenaline and other stress hormones, which constricts blood vessels (vasoconstriction) and increases the heart rate (tachycardia). 


Vasoconstriction and tachycardia temporarily increase the pressure inside arteries and veins.  But, prolonged occurrences of sleep apnea can lead to chronic high blood pressure, commonly known as hypertension. 


Prolonged hypertension often leads to cardiovascular damage, including:

  • Low arterial elasticity 
  • Left ventricular hypertrophy
  • Atrial fibrillation 

Coronary Artery Disease

Sleep apnea may also contribute to the development of coronary artery disease. This type of cardiovascular disease occurs when plaque builds up inside the arteries that supply the heart muscle with oxygen and nutrients. The result is:

  • Inflammation
  • Oxidative stress
  • Long-term cardiovascular damage


Low Blood Oxygen Levels

The repeated episodes of hypoxia and reoxygenation that occur during apnea events can lead to low blood oxygen levels. Lower blood oxygen levels are dangerous, as they may lead to the formation of blood clots.


Blood clots can travel throughout the body, blocking blood flow wherever they go. Blockages can cause strokes or heart attacks, which may prove fatal.


Stroke is another cardiovascular condition that researchers link to sleep conditions. During an apnea event, the brain may not receive enough oxygen. This can damage the blood vessels, which significantly increases the risk of stroke. 


But, that’s not all–sleep apnea is associated with several other risk factors for stroke, including:

  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

Heart Failure

Sleep conditions can also contribute to the development of heart failure. Heart failure is a condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs


How exactly does sleep apnea cause heart failure? Well, it may be a combination of things. For example, hypertension may damage the muscles of the heart while coronary artery disease may block the natural flow of blood to the heart. 


No matter the reason, sleep apnea places increased stress on the cardiovascular system. As a result, the heart’s performance begins to dwindle over time, placing patients at an increased risk of heart failure. 

How to Treat Sleep Apnea for Improved Heart Health

If you suspect that you may have sleep apnea, it is important to seek a diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible. Early diagnosis could prevent deadly cardiovascular diseases.


Typically, diagnosis involves a sleep study. During a sleep study, a sleep doctor monitors your breathing patterns, heart rate, and other vital signs while you sleep. Using this data, the sleep doctor can determine if you have obstructive sleep apnea and which treatment options may be ideal for you.


Initially, treatment solutions for sleep apnea may include some lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Losing weight
  • Quitting smoking
  • Avoiding alcohol and sedatives before bedtime
  • Limiting stress


However, lifestyle changes may not be enough for some patients. Luckily, there are plenty of medical treatments available to patients to treat sleep apnea, including continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy


CPAP therapy entails wearing a mask over the nose, mouth, or both. The mask delivers a steady stream of pressurized air. This continuous stream of air keeps the airway open during sleep, which helps reestablish healthy blood oxygenation for improved cardiovascular health.


But, many patients may not need to seek CPAP therapy because a simpler solution may be just as beneficial–personalized oral appliances. These appliances help reposition the jaw, which keeps the airways free and clear. No need to wear a mask! Just slip the device in the mouth before hitting the hay.

Sleep Apnea Treatment in Sacramento, CA

Don’t let sleep conditions weigh on your heart. Get health-saving treatment with Dr. Timothy Mickiewicz in Sacramento, CA. Patients can reach our team online, or they may dial (916) 469-9178 for appointments and more information.