As a sufferer of sleep apnea,you put up with a lot. From all-day fatigue to morning headaches, you’re among an estimated 12 million American adults who do battle with this condition from morning through most of the night. Yet among the symptoms, what you may not expect is a sky-rocketing risk of sudden cardiac death.
Our doctors from Northwest Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine, Dr. Kellar and Dr. Gundavaram, explain why sleep apnea isn’t only frustrating, but it can also prove fatal.
The basics of sleep apnea and the heart
Sleep apnea is a condition during which a person stops breathing 5-30 times per hour for 10 seconds or longer while they’re asleep. The stop/start nature of this condition is enough to wake the person, sometimes by choking or gasping. It’s not pleasant, scary, even. But the symptoms can begin innocently enough, and you may not even be awakened by them.
Yet what begins as difficulty concentrating and irritability, can quickly lead to depression, sexual dysfunction, learning and memory difficulties, and falling asleep in dangerous situations. Left untreated, it can progress further – onwards to high blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia, heart attack, congestive heart failure, and stroke.
Almost 1 in 5 adults suffers from mild sleep apnea, yet most remain undiagnosed.
The science behind sleep apnea and sudden cardiac death
Your body relies on maintaining a healthy blood pressure. If it’s too high, you run the risk of a heart attack. When it’s too low, and it can lead to dizziness, fainting and, in the most severe instances, shock.
Blood pressure rises when you’re not breathing (ergo, when sleep apnea sufferers stop breathing during their sleep). These pauses also cause a dip in oxygen levels, which places further strain on the heart.
A study published in 2013 proved a link between sleep apnea and sudden cardiac death. Before then experts in the field made educated guesses, but no one had conclusive, undeniable proof.
Without wanting to heap on more bad news, sleep apnea can also cause inflammation of the heart and unhealthy changes in blood vessels.
Sleep apnea sufferer -- don’t panic
We know, we know -- easier said than done, right? The prospect of sudden cardiac arrest isn’t on anyone’s wish list. But there is treatment out there that can both alleviate sleep apnea side effects and drive down the risk of a heart attack.
The most effective treatment option is known as a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. This medical gadget involves a mask which is placed over the nose and/or mouth; it pushes gentle bursts of air into the airways to keep them open and unobstructed during sleep.
CPAP machines can and do change the lives of sleep apnea sufferers. Not only can they reduce blood pressure during the nighttime, but they’re also shown to lower it during the day. Perhaps most compellingly, people with atrial fibrillation (a type of irregular heart beat) who use a CPAP machine can reduce the chance of their needing further treatment significantly -- from 80% to 40%.
Dr. Kellar and Dr. Gundavaram are clear -- the first and most critical step for treating sleep apnea is to receive a professional diagnosis. At Northwest Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine, we provide exceptional personal care for those seeking diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea.
If you suspect that you may be suffering from sleep apnea, we’re the lung and sleep specialists to help you in Algonquin, Illinois. Expect nothing short of compassionate pulmonary and sleep medicine care. Schedule your appointment today either online or by phone at 815-770-5980.