According to the findings of a study by Midwest Heart Specialists of Illinois, there is a relationship between severe sleep apnea and heart-related death. The findings confirm a link long suspected by doctors as to why sleep apnea raises your risk of sudden cardiac death.
When the heart unexpectedly stops functioning leading to death, it is sudden cardiac death. The frequent intervals of breathing pauses are called apneas which means “without breath”. An apnea, therefore, is a period during which breathing stops or is reduced significantly.
Sleep apnea is a sleep condition where a person stops breathing at intervals while sleeping and is said to affect over 10 million American adults and many more could be suffering because they have not been diagnosed.
The frequent cessation of breathing during sleep results in the sudden and unexpected stoppage of the heart due to a failure of the hearts electrical signals and must be treated urgently, within minutes, to guarantee survival.
What you need to know about sleep apnea and cardiac problems
It was found that those with sleep apnea face a twofold increase in the risk of sudden death, particularly if breathing stops more than 20 times per hour of sleep which largely leads to severe drops in oxygen saturation during sleep. In fact, when you stop breathing for 10 seconds or longer, at least five times an hour while sleeping, you qualify for a sleep apnea diagnosis.
Normal breathing, meaning a free flow of air through the lungs results in a 100% oxygen saturation, whereas when one does not breathe properly, the oxygen saturation level can fall to as low as 78% thus increasing the risk of sudden cardiac death significantly.
Apart from sleep disruption, people suffering from sleep apnea are more prone to sudden cardiac death. It has been found that victims face cardiac attacks during typical sleep hours, usually between midnight and dawn.
Sleep apnea is prevalent among people who are obese since they are predisposed to other heart risk factors such as heart failure or heart disease. With these risk factor, one is at a higher risk of suffering sudden cardiac death if sleep apnea is added.
The abnormal heart beat leads to the sudden cardiac death. Low oxygen levels trigger a fight-or-flight response which piles pressure in the chest when the upper airways close and stresses the heart. Since this action may not kill one the first time, over time, it can cause inflammation in the blood vessels, resulting in conditions such as high blood pressure.
Causes of sleep apnea
The most common cause of sleep apnea in adults is excess weight and obesity. Obesity leads to more soft tissue in the throat and thus more blockage problems when the throat and tongue muscles are relaxed when one is sleeping.
Other factors causing sleep apnea are smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and sedatives which lead to obstruction of airways by excessively relaxing soft tissue and muscles around the throat.
For children, it is commonly caused by swollen tonsils or adenoids, or even tumor growths. Birth defects such as Down syndrome can also lead to airway blockage thus interrupted breathing. Women tend to be affected by or develop this sleep disorder during pregnancy or after menopause.
Family history plays a big role for sufferers with between 25%-40% having family members with the condition. Ethnicity is also a factor as people of African descent, Hispanics, and people from the Pacific Islands show higher incidences of sleep apnea than Caucasians.
Symptoms of sleep apnea
- Loud snoring.
- Waking up with shortness of breath.
- Waking up with a headache because of the oxygen deficiency caused in the body.
- Falling asleep during the day because of insufficient sleep during the night.
- An abnormal or irregular heart rhythm.
- Chest pain during sleep.
- Stoppage in breathing during sleep, observed.
- Daytime sleepiness.
- Drowsiness during the day.
- Frequently waking up for short calls without need.
Generally, obstructive sleep apnea affects more men than women. If you suspect that you or your partner is suffering from this condition, it is best to visit a doctor at the earliest opportunity for a diagnosis and treatment.
The most common symptoms of sleep apnea have been listed above and can help you identify the problem. You now know why sleep apnea raises your risk of sudden cardiac death. An early diagnosis and treatment are key to preventing death.
Read more: 11 Tips How To Sleep With Lower Back Pain
The main remedies for dealing with sleep apnea are lifestyle changes to modify and normalize breathing such as to stop smoking and drinking alcohol, losing weight and sleeping on one’s side to free airways. Find more information about sleep apnea here: