How can snoring affect your heart by Dr Michael MacDonald

Has your partner ever said you snore? Have they ever mentioned that you sometimes stop breathing when you sleep? If so, you may have sleep apnea, a potentially serious sleep disorder that can have significant consequences for the heart and arteries.

What is sleep apnea?

When people have sleep apnea there breathing can repeatedly stop and start throughout the night. Most commonly it is caused by the muscles at the back of the throat relaxing and the soft tissues obstructing your airway when you breathe in. This can happen multiple times every night. The brain may then briefly waken you, but you probably won’t remember this, but it often leaves people very fatigued and irritable during the day. Other common symptoms that point towards sleep apnea are loud snoring; episodes where you stop breathing; dry mouth; daytime headache; insomnia; and loss of attention when awake.

How common is it?

It is incredibly common with 1/3 of people in Singapore having sleep apnea. It is also very common if you have an underlying heart condition like heart failure or high blood pressure.

What are the risk factors for sleep apnea?

Being a man, being overweight, thick neck, being older, family history, alcohol use, smokers, nose congestion.

How can sleep apnea affect the heart?

Recurrent drops in blood oxygen levels cause repeated stress on the heart and vascular system. The body releases increasing amounts of the stress hormone adrenaline into the blood stream. This increases your risk of having high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and arrhythmias like atrial fibrillation. It also can increase your risk of diabetes.

How do you test for it?

Your cardiologist can arrange for a simple sleep study that can be performed at your own home to assess for sleep apnea. If diagnosed the treatment is usually a special device called that helps keep the airways open when you sleep, in addition to lifestyle modification like weight loss.

When should you see a doctor?

If you have any of the above symptoms attend your doctor for assessment. Not all sleep apnea sufferers snore, sometimes the main features can be fatigue and irritability during the day.

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