Whidbey General Hospital

Sleep Apnea May Carry Cardiac Risk

The combination of disturbed sleep and lack of oxygen caused by sleep apnea may lead to serious cardiovascular complications. The Whidbey Island Sleep Center is here to help.

Nobody had to tell Mark G., age 58, that he was having trouble sleeping. He would snort, snore and gasp his way through the night with untreated sleep apnea. He frequently woke up tired, irritable, with a headache and more fatigued than when he went to bed the night before.

One thing Mark never suspected was that sleep apnea could also be hurting his heart.


Sleep Apnea and Heart Disease

Sleep ApneaIn the last three decades, significant evidence has established a strong link between sleep apnea and cardiac disease.

Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common type, occurs when muscles in the back of the throat relax and momentarily close off airways, which lowers blood oxygen. The brain senses this and briefly rouses the person to reopen airways.

Although the pattern can repeat hundreds of times during the night, the sleeping person generally is unaware of these disruptions.

The combination of disturbed sleep and lack of oxygen may lead to serious cardiovascular complications such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, stroke and abnormal heart rhythms. Left untreated, sleep apnea will worsen these conditions.

Contact the accredited Whidbey Island Sleep Center, a clinic of Whidbey General Hospital, for more information on sleep and cardiac health.


Cardiac Concerns

A person suffering from sleep apnea may experience several changes that directly affect cardiovascular health.

    • Added Stress – Sleep apnea causes the nervous system to release more adrenalin and epinephrine than usual, which stresses the cardiovascular system and increases heart rate and blood pressure.
    • Greater Risk of Heart Disease – Decreases in oxygen damage the lining in blood vessels, causing them to constrict and not dilate. The lining becomes damaged and broken down, making it more likely that cholesterol and fatty substances settle and form the plaque that leads to coronary artery disease. Drops in oxygen levels also increase the release of super-oxides from blood cells, which damage the cardiovascular system.
    • Inflammation – Sleep apnea-induced lack of oxygen causes the body to release chemicals that cause blood vessel inflammation, which may contribute to coronary artery disease.
    • A Struggle for Breath – Sleep apnea-induced upper airway obstruction affects the mechanics of the heart. The chest struggles to expand to open up the airway, which causes negative pressure inside the chest and affects the cardiovascular system.
    • Stroke and Diabetes Risk – People with obstructive sleep apnea may suffer from a cluster of conditions such as increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol. Occurring together, these conditions increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
    • Heart Attacks - Obstructive sleep apnea can cause sudden cardiac death during sleep and may make nighttime heart attacks more likely than daytime heart attacks.


Do I Have Sleep Apnea?

Sleep Center entranceSnoring is not just an annoyance. It is a symptom that indicates you may have sleep apnea which, if left untreated, could lead to or aggravate life-threatening conditions.

Taking our sleep apnea quiz could be an important step toward addressing this serious health concern.


Talk with a primary care doctor if you think you have any symptoms of sleep apnea or call us at the Whidbey Island Sleep Center at 360-240-4080.




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