Sleep Apnea & Heart Health

Romance or Heartache?

Sleep Apnea & Heart Health

For most couples, sharing a bed is one of the great joys of a long-term relationship. Those moments of falling asleep and waking up together are a major source of intimacy. But for Tom and his partner, sharing a bed had become impossible due to his incessantly loud snoring and untreated sleep apnea. Tom couldn’t accept sleeping at a distance and needed an option he could live with.

Each February people across the country recognize and celebrate two events, Valentine’s Day and the American Heart Month. During this time, we are encouraged to give thought to special people in our lives and grow our relationships. We are also encouraged to pay attention to the risk factors for heart disease and make heart-healthy lifestyle changes. Because heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Heart Association, it is a subject worth taking seriously.

Sleep Apnea and Heart Health

One significant relationship the American Heart Association wants us to take note of is between cardiovascular disease, blood pressure and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is a condition characterized by complete and partial airway obstructions, which can occur when the tongue and muscles relax during sleep. The lower jaw falls back towards the throat and the airway becomes compromised or completely blocked.

A typical sequence of OSA occurs when a person stops snoring and is silent for seconds or even minutes. The body’s oxygen level drops and the blood pressure rises. The heart is forced to beat faster, causing the pulse rate to increase. The brain may cause the body to jerk in an attempt to wake the sleeper so breathing will resume. The silence may end with a loud snort, cough or gasp. This causes the sleeper to wake briefly and begin breathing. Once asleep again, the muscles relax and the airway becomes blocked, cutting off the airway again. This cycle can occur hundreds of times per night.

Additionally, there is a connection between increased rate of atrial fibrillation (an irregular heart beat) and OSA. The National Sleep Foundation notes that patients suffering from both conditions whose sleep apnea was treated had only a 40% chance of coming back for treatment of their atrial fibrillation while those whose OSA was untreated had an 80% chance of recurrence of their atrial fibrillation.

Over 18 million people in the U.S. suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea, but less than 10% have been diagnosed. – National Sleep Foundation

Signs of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

People with obstructive sleep apnea have a higher risk of death than the normal population. The price they pay includes a potentially crippling deterioration in daily functioning, an increased risk of high blood pressure and stroke, depression, and death either in accidents or in their sleep.

There are many costs for the family of the person with untreated obstructive sleep apnea. These include irritability, mood changes, lowered sexual drive and capacity, and a reduction of intellectual ability. In addition, there are major business, insurance, health, and social costs including the loss of productivity, the impact of accidents caused by a driver or worker falling asleep, and the wasted health care dollars spent on alleviating symptoms like heart disease without treating their possible underlying cause.


Heart Disease both causes and is often the result of Obstructive Sleep Apnea. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, when apneas occur the amount of oxygen in the blood can drop to below 60 percent. At the same time blood pressure can soar as high as 240/130. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, normal blood pressure is below 120/80. The heart may suffer damage as a result of the apneas. The oxygen deprivation causes the heart to pump harder to support the extra effort of the lungs trying to overcome the obstruction of the airway. This stress triggers your body to respond in ways that may promote high blood pressure, heart disease, and other cardiovascular complications.

“I had one patient who came to me after suffering four heart attacks. He finally realized he had to do something about his untreated sleep apnea,”

A study from the journal SLEEP confirms the urgency of treating sleep apnea. Results show that people with severe, untreated sleep apnea have five times the risk of dying from a heart problem.

Treatment Options for Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) has continued to be the gold standard of treatment for severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea. “If a patient is using CPAP and doing well, I want them to stay on it,” says “Unfortunately, many patients simply cannot get used to the mask, or suffer from claustrophobia that causes them to discontinue using the CPAP,”

According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, “Approximately 60% of CPAP users are still using the CPAP after a few months.” Consequently, this means that about 40% stop using their CPAP completely and continue to go untreated. If a patient cannot wear the CPAP, there are other options. These include: Lifestyle Changes, Surgery, and Oral Appliance Therapy.

Oral Appliance Therapy has come to the forefront as a completely viable, scientifically based treatment option for obstructive sleep apnea. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine issued a statement in the 2006 journal SLEEP, Vol. 29, No. 2 declaring that Oral Appliance Therapy has been scientifically approved as a first line treatment for those suffering from mild to moderate obstructive sleep apnea and is proving to be effective in severe cases as well.

The purpose of the oral appliance is to hold the jaw in a position that allows the airway to remain as open and firm as possible during sleep. Oral appliances are similar to athletic mouth guards but are less bulky. They are completely non-invasive.

Is your situation similar to Tom’s? Is snoring keeping your partner at a distance? Restore the romance and avoid the heartache. We work closely with area physicians to provide comprehensive care when treating obstructive sleep apnea. Oral Appliance Therapy is covered by most medical insurances and Medicare. Koala Center For Sleep & TMJ Disorders offers options you can live with. Call us today for a consultation at and take care of your relationships and your heart!

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