What does Sleep Apnea do to your heart?

Sleep Apnea Heart

There is a lot of speculation surrounding the effect that sleep apnea has on your heart, but what is the real truth behind this?

It is certainly true that sleep apnea does play a part in the health of your heart, but the extent of this may come as a surprise. There are links with things such as an irregular heart beat and high blood pressure as well as much more serious conditions such as heart attack.

Whilst this might sound frightening, there are ways in which you can improve your heart health, even if you are affected by sleep apnea.

In this article, we will be looking at what sleep apnea does to your heart in a little closer detail. What’s more, we will be exploring ways in which you can ensure that your heart is as well taken care of as possible.

How Heart Problems Might Cause Sleep Apnea

Before we begin looking at how sleep apnea might affect the heart, it is also important to make ourselves aware of how the heart might trigger sleep apnea – it seems like something of a vicious circle, right?

There are three main types of sleep apnea – obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea and mixed sleep apnea, which is a combination of both of the aforementioned forms of the condition.

Depending on what type of sleep apnea you have will depend on how your heart health may play a part in this diagnosis. For example one of the most common reasons for suffering from obstructive sleep apnea is being overweight. One of the major side effects of carrying additional weight is high blood pressure, which of course can have an effect on the heart.

In the case of central sleep apnea, it is thought that those who suffer from conditions such as congestive heart failure are much more likely to have a secondary diagnosis of sleep apnea.

We can therefore see that whilst sleep apnea itself can have an effect on the heart, the heart may also be partly responsible for the development of the condition in this first place.

What Does Sleep Apnea Do To The Heart?

There are several ways in which sleep apnea might have a serious effect on your heart, some of these things are quite minor and may cause nothing more than a mild inconvenience to your life whereas others may be a little more serious.

We are now going to explore the heart related issues you might expect to experience with sleep apnea and how they can affect your overall health.

High Blood Pressure

We have already discussed how obesity and weight problems can be linked with high blood pressure and that this in turn, can be a cause of sleep apnea. But for patients who do not already suffer with high blood pressure, there is a risk that sleep apnea may induce this problem.

When you suffer from sleep apnea, it is common that there may be a sudden drop in your blood pressure as a result of a sleep episode. This can then translate into added pressure on your cardiovascular system which has to work much harder to maintain a healthy function. Because of this, patients with sleep apnea often find that they experience hypertension – which we know more commonly as high blood pressure.

In addition to this, when you awake suddenly from a sleep episode, your brain will release a dose of stress hormones, which is known to significantly raise your blood pressure.

Irregular Heart Beat

One of the most common conditions relating to irregular heartbeat is called atrial fibrillation and affects many people both with and without sleep apnea. The condition causes the heart to beat out of rhythm and may also cause the heart to skip a beat.

If you suffer from this condition, you may feel your heart beating fast within your chest and this can be somewhat alarming when it happens for the first time.

The condition is caused when the chambers in the upper section of the heart randomly contract which then stops the muscles of the heart from being able to relax correctly in between beats.

One of the major points of concern with this condition is that continued palpitations such as we have described may cause the heart to lose effectiveness and its ability to perform as well as it should. As a result of this, patients with the condition are more prone to contracting more serious heart related issues such as stroke and heart attack.

This condition is also more likely to appear in those who suffer from high blood pressure.

Increased Risk Of Cardiovascular Disease

It is a relatively well known fact that sufferers of sleep apnea may be more likely to go on to develop various types of cardiovascular disease and this can be blamed on a number of factors which we have already explored.

The first being the raised blood pressure which can put an unnecessary strain on the heart, causing its health to deteriorate faster than that of a person without sleep apnea.

Secondly, the repeated episodes of atrial fibrillation can put additional strain on the heart, weakening it prematurely.

Heart Attack and Stroke

As a result of a weakened heart, patients who suffer with sleep apnea are also known to be much more likely to have a heart attack.

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that sleep apnea is very closely linked with the onset of heart failure and stroke as well as other conditions such as coronary artery disease.

Strokes are caused by a lack of oxygenated blood flow to the brain, and of course when your blood pressure is decreased due to a lack of oxygen, stroke becomes much more likely. For those with sleep apnea, the repeated episodes of high blood pressure can cause the brain to become less able to modulate the constant changes. For this reason, stroke is much more likely.

Death From Sleep Apnea Heart Problems

One of the most common concerns for those who have heart problems as a result of their sleep apnea is whether these issues could potentially be fatal.

In short, it is very rare that you will die as a direct result of sleep apnea, however it is important to keep in mind that in a very small minority of cases, it has been observed that sudden death may occur from an irregular heartbeat. It is also vital to remember that this tends to happen in patients who already suffer with heart disease – most likely those suffering with central sleep apnea, who have experienced a high amount of low blood oxygen instances.

Whilst heart disease is a potential risk associated with sleep apnea, there are some excellent advances in modern medicine which can protect and save lives when dealing with these kinds of conditions. That being said, ensuring good heart health is vital to having a long and healthy life.

How To Look After The Heart With Sleep Apnea

As we have mentioned, taking good care of your heart is one of the best ways to avoid serious complications, whether you have sleep apnea or not. However, for those with sleep apnea and heart related issues, there are certain things that you can do in order to keep your heart at its healthiest.

Use A CPAP Machine

The most common form of treatment for sleep apnea is the use of a CPAP machine, or in some cases a BIPAP machine.

These devices ensure that the airways are kept open whilst the patient is asleep and therefore eliminate sleep episodes in which the blood pressure could be affected.

Through the use of these machines, the strain on your heart is drastically reduced, meaning that in the long run, you are less likely to experience heart problems caused by sleep apnea.

Other Ways To Keep The Heart Healthy

Of course, using your CPAP machine is the single best way to treat sleep apnea and the health conditions associated with it. However, there are many other things that you can do to make sure that your heart remains healthy.

  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol.
  • Avoid using recreational drugs.
  • Take regular exercise.
  • Attempt to lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight.
  • Try to keep your stress levels as low as possible.


In patients with sleep apnea, it is much more common to see heart and cardiovascular related problems. Some of these might include raised blood pressure which can lead to heart disease and a greater risk of stroke.

Whilst this may be a concerning issue, there are ways in which you can improve the health of your heart such as altering your lifestyle as well as making use of a CPAP machine to effectively treat your sleep apnea. This will have a direct impact on how severely your heart is affected by the condition.

There are some patients who are diagnosed with sleep apnea as a result of heart disease, this is known as central sleep apnea and is one of the three main forms of this condition, in this case treating sleep apnea is more important than ever.




Dan was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2017 when he was only 32 years old. He has been using a BIPAP machine for his treatment. He hopes to provide a patient's perspective on the sleep apnea experience. Dan lives in Tampa with his girlfriend and 2 dogs.

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