Arrhythmia and Sleep Apnea

Posted by Darian Dozier on Jan 18, 2023 5:05:00 PM

Add a heading-Jul-11-2022-12-56-37-84-AMSleep apnea is a common sleeping disorder that involves brief cessation in breathing called apneas. These apneic events can be due to an obstruction (the most common) or a brain stem disorder (central sleep apnea). Although these brief pauses only last for a few seconds, they are still quite concerning to bed partners and are detrimental to your health. 

In this article, we are going to talk about arrhythmias and their connection with sleep apnea. Arrhythmias are just one of the ways that sleep apnea can negatively affect one's health. Although one of the lesser known causes of arrhythmias, they are serious enough that any risk factors must be addressed as soon as possible. Continue reading for more information. 

What is sleep apnea? 

Sleep apnea is a medical term for short cessations in breathing throughout the night. The most common cause of apneas is called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is due to a mechanical blockage of the airway, normally due to collapsed muscles in the back of the throat or an enlarged tongue. These events cause your body to wake up and begin breathing again, normally without your awareness. 

Common causes or risk factors associated with OSA include being male, smoker, overweight/obese, large neck, and large tongue. OSA can be really easy to spot if you have a bed partner that can identify that you pause while breathing. If you don't, then you may wake up feeling really tired and unsure why. You also may develop other health issues and not know that OSA is the underlying causes. 

Other symptoms include excessive daytime sleepiness, headaches, irritable mood, poor memory, and everything else associated with sleep deprivation. 

What are arrhythmias? 

Arrhythmias are strange heart rhythms that do not follow typical "lub dub" normal heart rhythm. If someone ever feels their heart skip a beat, it could be due to an arrythmia, along with a racing heart beat. Anything that is too slow, too fast, or with extra heart sounds is considered and arrhythmia. 

Arrhythmias can be diagnosed just from being heard by a doctor. Typical arrhythmias follow certain patterns and are audible through the stethoscope. Machines can further diagnose arrhythmias, like electrocardiogram, or ECG (EKG). They will further tell you what particular type of arrhythmia you are experiencing to get you proper treatment. 

What is the link between the two? 

Does OSA cause arrhythmias? Although the interruptions in your breathing may be brief, it can have significant effects on your heart. This is because when you don't breathe, your lungs aren't creating pressure differentials which affects the amount of blood that enters your heart. This can cause some ischemia, or loss of oxygen, in your heart and lead to electrical changes. These electrical changes can impact the conduction system that synchronizes your heart beats. 

In addition to these changes, 25% of people with a pacemaker to maintain a regular heart rate also have sleep apnea. This suggests a close relationship between sleep apnea and arrhythmias. 

Treating sleep apnea has also been shown to reverse or reduce the incidence of an arrythmia. This means that treating sleep apnea may be the key to improving arrhythmias instead of certain surgeries or procedures that are more invasive. 

People with heart disease also experience sleep apnea more than the general population. This means that some with sleep apnea may have already had heart problems. And sleep apnea can further increase someone's risk of developing an abnormal heart rhythm. 

What are consequences of both? 

The consequences of both sleep apnea and arrhythmias are very serious, and therefore, evidence of either should be handled swiftly. 

The consequences of sleep apnea include a higher risk for hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. This is probably mostly due to the sleep deprivation that accompanies sleep apnea, as well as the low oxygen levels. Both states put your body in a state of emergency, which rushes activating hormones such as cortisol, into the body. As all three of those continue to worsen, your risk for a serious adverse event, like a heart attack or stroke, continue to increase. 

The consequences of an arrythmia are just as serious, and may even be more swift. Arrhythmias can often cause strokes and embolisms due to the irregularity of heart beats, and the ability of the blood to pool and clot. This can cause a stroke in the brain, a deep vein thrombosis, or a pulmonary embolism, all of which can be fatal. Therefore, it's vital, that if an arrhythmia is suspected, you get it taken care of as quickly as possible. 

How to get help 

Addressing both, thankfully, is very simple and widespread. Sleep apnea and arrhythmias are common disorders which very basic procedures and treatment options. Firstly, you'll need to get them both officially diagnosed. Sleep apnea is diagnosed using a sleep study, or a polysomnography, where they will measure several vital signs and physiological parameters.

If you are found to have sleep apnea, they will prescribe you a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP machine, that will provide resistance in your airway as you exhale to keep it from collapsing. As long as you keep it clean and follow some basic hygiene and maintenance recommendations, this should be all you need to treat OSA. 

Arrhythmias, however, are different, as they rely more on the type of arrhythmia. If your heart is beating too slow, then you may require a pacemaker. If your heart beats too fast, then you may require some medication that slows it down. However, if your heart has an irregular pattern to it, then you may require a procedure or surgery depending on the source of the irregularity. A consultation with a cardiologist is required for an official diagnosis and treatment plan. 

If you think you have OSA, then please click the orange button below to take the free online sleep test offered by our facility. When you are done, you can then be put in contact with one of our sleep health professionals for further evaluation. 

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