Search our website Find job opportunies at THI and St. Luke's Find a doctor location and contact information
Heart Information Center
 
Ask a Heart Doctor
  Back to previous page

 

Help us improve this service.

Your feedback will help guide us in developing this site.

Ask a Texas Heart Institute Doctor 
Informed patients make better patients.

Question:

Can sleep apnea cause serious effects to my heart? 

I am sure that I have sleep apnea. Does that cause serious effects to my heart?

submitted by Martha from Conroe, Texas on 5/8/2013

Answer:

by Texas Heart Institute cardiologist, Scott Sherron, MD  

Scott R. Sherron, MDMartha, I  am happy to address this issue since I am board-certified in both cardiology and sleep medicine (a surprisingly unusual combination since there are so many cardiac effects of sleep disorders).  

Obstructive sleep apnea causes or worsens high blood pressure, is a common cause of atrial fibrillation, can worsen congestive heart failure and leads to an increase in heart attacks in people who have coronary artery disease. The main mechanism is related to adrenaline. When a person with sleep apnea starts to drift into deeper stages of sleep, they beginning to breathe too shallowly or even briefly stop breathing because of the relaxation of the voluntary muscles that they depend on to keep their airway open. (People without sleep apnea can maintain their airway with involuntary muscles even in the deepest stages of sleep and in REM.)  This inadequate breathing leads to hypoxia, a drop in oxygen level. This is a physiologic stress which triggers a release of a small amount of adrenaline which partially wakes them up, allowing deeper breaths. It often does not result in a full arousal and may only cause more shallow sleeping. However, when this occurs over and over throughout the night, it can cause a person to effectively "bob" just under the surface all night, never achieving the full 90 min cycles that provide restorative sleep, leaving them sleepy all day even after 8 or more hours of sleep. Also, the repeated small doses of adrenaline can cause an increase in BP and strain on the heart.

Although, CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) can seem very difficult at first, it can be a very effective treatment and the results make it worth the difficulty. Other treatment options are available if CPAP fails. Hope this was helpful.

See also on this site:     

Has your question or a similar one already been answered?
Search all the Heart Doctor questions and answers.

To search for a doctor or access St. Luke's physician referral service, use the "Find a Doctor" link at the top of this page.


Updated May 2013
Top  
Like us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Subscribe to us on YouTube Find Us on Flicikr Follow Us on Pinterest Add us on Google+ Find us on LinkedIn

Please contact our Webmaster with questions or comments.
Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
© Copyright 1996-2014 Texas Heart Institute.
All rights reserved.
This website is accredited by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify. U.S. NEWS America's Best Hospitals 2013-14