Are You Safe From Heart Disease?

What Happens While You Sleep Might Be Killing You


Heart DiseaseIn my last article, I talked about several illnesses that can be caused by sleep apnea (OSA). In this article I’ll focus specifically on the heart; that little guy that gives you life.


What OSA Does To Your Heart

When you’re awake, you generally have good muscle tone, and your breathing is usually brisk enough to keep your airway open. Once you fall asleep, your muscles relax and your breathing slows down; which allows the airway to become ‘floppy’, making it vulnerable to collapse, either partially or completely.

When that happens, oxygen levels drop. This drop in 02 causes stress on your heart and it releases a hormone called epinephrine (adrenaline). It also responds to this by slowing down, causing the arteries to narrow in an effort to compensate for that.

These processes put quite a strain on your heart and can lead to heart disease. Let’s take a look at the four most likely to occur with OSA. The most common types found in sleep apnea are Hypertension, atrial fibrillation (afib),  coronary artery disease (CAD), and heart failure.

But first let’s consider the difference in how men and women experience heart disease


Men And Women Experience Heart Disease Differently

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women, but women experience symptoms differently than men. And most Physicians, including Cardiologists, tend to believe that heart disease is more common in men than women. As a result, they either don’t recognize the symptoms; or worse, have an ‘it’s all in your head’ mentality.

For instance, a guy goes to the ER with chest pain, and after a whole series of tests,  his heart is thoroughly checked out. He is ultimately placed on an appropriate heart medication and will be monitored closely. While a woman who goes in with chest pains might be given a psychiatric evaluation and sent home on some anti-anxiety pill.

And because women are less likely to receive appropriate treatment, the death rate among females is higher; even though men have a greater risk of heart attack.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the four main heart diseases related to sleep apnea.


High blood pressure (hypertension)

You can only go without breathing for so long; eventually, your brain signals your body to wake up and take a breath.  When this happens, the heart, which had slowed down, now starts beating faster, pumping more oxygen rich blood into your arteries.

However, these arteries are still constricted from your heart responding to low oxygen levels in your blood; and this, my friend, causes an increase in blood pressure. The problem becomes more severe over time, because eventually your blood pressure remains high 24/7.

Medicine your Dr. might prescribe for that will help reduce hypertension, either by getting rid of excess fluid around your heart, reducing your heart rate, or causing your arteries to open up.

Hypertension can also cause atrial fibrillation, but so can sleep apnea.


Atrial Fibrillation (a-fib)

The stress your heart is under during repeated episodes of not breathing causes a part of the heart called the left atrium to become enlarged. This results in a misfiring of the heart, and it begins to beat irregularly.

When that happens it can allow blood to pool in a part of the heart called the atria (see diagram).  This pooling can allow the blood to coagulate, forming a clot; if this clot comes loose it can flow through your artery and lodge in your brain, causing a stroke.

Medicine your Dr. might prescribe for this condition will thin your blood, making clots less likely to happen. Other meds include those that slow the heart, lower blood pressure, and help stabilize the rhythm.


Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

CAD is the most common type of heart disease and the leading cause of death.  Cholesterol and other fatty substances, build up in your arteries, causing what’s known as plaque; which makes your arteries stiff. If a chunk of this plaque breaks off, it can flow through your blood system; and you already know what happens next.

However, the repetitive cycle of oxygen levels dropping then returning to normal levels, (as what happens in OSA), creates an inflammatory process that contributes to the development of CAD.

And unfortunately, at this time there is no known cure.


Heart failure (HF)

The stress that sleep apnea puts on your heart causes it to become weak and not pump blood effectively.  So even though it’s called heart failure, your heart is still beating; it’s just not as efficient as it could be. Heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalization in those over 65 and can lead to death

Medicines that treat HF include those that help with blood pressure, and stabilize the rhythm. Various surgical procedures can be done as well.


Side Effects

As good as these medications are, they also have side effects that can disrupt your sleep. These include, but are not limited to:

  •  Frequent urge to urinate, diarrhea, stomach pain.
  •  Nausea, vomiting, headache.
  •  Muscle pains, cough, sore throat.


Natural Supplements Can Also be Beneficial

There are numerous supplements out there that have been proven to effectively treat various heart diseases. However, use caution  as many of them make claims; but because these supplements aren’t regulated, purity and standardization are legitimate concerns. They also have their own side effects that can cause various discomforts.

Take a look at the following supplements that have been shown to be of some benefit.



this is an enzyme produced by your body and is also found in organ meats. It’s used for cell growth and maintenance; and can also aide in the treatment of heart failure. Your body normally produces co-q10 in ample amounts; however, this decreases as we age, and also may be low in people with heart disease.


Omega 3 fatty acid (fish oil)

Your body doesn’t produce this type of good fat so it must be added to your diet. It works by lowering  triglyceride levels, which are the fats that are stored in your body. If your triglyceride numbers get to high you can develop heart disease.

Good food sources include: Tuna, anchovies, sardines, and salmon; but you can also get Fish oil in supplement form.



is a type of sugar produced by the body, and studies indicate that it may improve heart function in people with coronary artery disease. You can also buy D-Ribose in powder form.



Cholesterol in plants helps lower cholesterol in humans. Good sources of this are found in certain fruits, vegetables, and oils.



The Big 3 Of A Healthy Lifestyle

  •  Diet–Rich in fruits vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  •   Exercise–You really don’t need to strain yourself here;  even a 30-minute walk 5 times a week can make a noticeable difference.
  •  Sleep–There are many health benefits from getting a good nights sleep. In fact, some have even gone so far as to say that sleep is more important than both diet and exercise!!


Some Questions

Can CPAP ‘Cure’ Heart Disease?

Not necessarily, although it can relieve the stress on your heart caused by sleep apnea; thus allowing it to function better. Also, some people have had their heart medications reduced, or stopped altogether after being on cpap.


Can sleep apnea be cured?

In some cases, people have been ‘cured’ of sleep apnea by losing weight, but don’t count on that. There are also some surgical procedures that have lessened the severity of OSA. Also, in some cases, something called ‘positional therapy’ has helped. In positional therapy, you are kept off your back by various methods.


What if I already have heart disease?

If you suspect you have sleep apnea, talk with your Dr. If you are already using CPAP, continue to do so; and take any medications as prescribed.


I just snore, should I be concerned?

Occasional snoring may be no more than a nuisance, more to your bed partner then you. However, long term snoring not only disrupts your sleep, it also causes injury to your throat through the constant vibration of tissue.

Here’s the problem…There are 2 arteries in your neck that bring oxygen-rich blood to your brain; which become inflamed by the constant vibration from snoring. Inflammation causes a hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis; which leads to heart disease.

So snoring by itself can be a serious health risk


Is sleep apnea hereditary?

Technically, yes. For instance, if your dad had sleep apnea and you inherit his physical characteristics, you’re more likely to experience sleep apnea.



If you have OSA, your heart takes quite a beating while you sleep; and if this initial issue isn’t dealt with, it could prove to be deadly. Also, heart disease isn’t just a man’s disease; the public, as well as medical professionals, need to be more aware of its impact on women. So if you suspect that you might have OSA, do yourself and those who love you a favor, and talk with your Dr.

We’ll cover different treatment options in our next blog. You won’t want to miss this one.


The Alarming Truth About Sleep Apnea

         The Alarming Truth About Sleep Apnea


Did you know that obstructive sleep apnea increases your chance of sudden death

In fact, some studies indicate that if you have obstructive sleep apnea (or OSA), your chance of dying are 3 times higher than the general population.

Sleep apnea, often mispronounced ‘sleep acne’, is an obstruction in your airway while you sleep. When you’re awake, your airway is usually able to stay open, allowing you to breathe well. As you fall asleep, however, breathing slows down, and muscles relax. The upper airway is basically all muscle, and more likely to become floppy or collapse;  decreasing airflow, or stopping it altogether.

This results in a number of physical and mental/emotional changes that can be more than just a nuisance; they can be down right deadly. Unfortunately, some of the symptoms of OSA are not identified as such, and the real cause is not dealt with; sometimes with fatal consequences.

With that in mind, lets take a look at some indications that you might have sleep apnea.





Has anyone ever told you that you snore? Do you wake yourself up sometimes because of snoring? Does your significant other no longer sleep in the same room with you because of your loud ruckus?

What causes this commotion anyway?

Snoring happens when the airway becomes narrowed, resulting in the vibration of soft tissue. This narrowing happens because your airway relaxes while you sleep. And while snoring by itself may not be hazardous to your health, it can be a symptom of sleep apnea, which may be fatal.

But before we delve into the more serious aspects of OSA, lets take a look at a couple of the more just plain irritating symptoms.





When you swallow, there’s a little valve that opens to allow food into your stomach. If this valve becomes weak, or doesn’t close normally, stomach acid can back up into your esophagus (the tube that connects your stomach to your throat). This causes what is commonly called ‘heartburn’; or  Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (also known as GERD).

Trying to breathe against a closed airway, which happens if you have sleep apnea, creates a suction that can literally pull stomach acid into your esophagus.

GERD is usually treated with medicine, but being it can also be a symptom of OSA, that should be considered as well.



Sleep apnea causes stress on the body which leads to the release of various hormones. One of these hormones creates the urge to urinate; so frequent trips to the bathroom at night could be a sign you have sleep apnea.

What happens is this: You fall asleep, and eventually your airway closes off. After some time, your brain signals the need for oxygen, and wakes you up. You take some deep breaths, and your heart starts pounding. This sends a signal to your kidneys to get rid of what it believes is excess fluid; which is an attempt by your body to take the stress off your heart.

However, there are a number of causes for this urge other then OSA; but if you also snore and are tired all the time, this could be another indication that you have sleep apnea. Although it’s natural to get up once or twice a night to go to the bathroom, more trips then that should be looked into.

And while the frequent urge to urinate isn’t a serious heath risk in itself, it’s also a sign of Diabetes; which is critical. And OSA can also cause that.

Here’s how.



While your airway is closed off, you’re still attempting to breathe; and these attempts cause stress on your body.  When your body’s under stress, it goes into fight or flight mode; which releases a chemical that, over time, leads to insulin resistance. This in turn, leads specifically to type 2 Diabetes,  which is generally the non-insulin dependent kind.

Type 1 Diabetes can also be worsened by OSA, because when the body is under stress, it’s harder for it to control blood sugar levels.

However, treating sleep apnea with CPAP has been shown to reduce insulin resistance, and therefore, improve blood sugar levels in those with both types of Diabetes.

And of course, trying to breathe against a closed airway is very stressful on your heart as well.

Which can lead to…



Heart disease is the leading cause of death. Here’s how OSA is connected.

We sleep to give our bodies some down time. However, if you continually stop breathing because your airway closes off, this puts an extra strain on the heart at the very time it should be resting.  This can lead to a number of deadly complications.

The first thing that happens when your airway closes off and you stop breathing is your oxygen level drops. Your body reacts to this drop in oxygen by narrowing the blood vessels in an effort to conserve what little oxygen it is getting. When breathing once again resumes, blood pressure increases due to narrowed arteries.

As the heart is going through its rollercoaster ride in a continual attempt to keep up with what your body is doing,  it can also develop an irregular rhythm. The most common of these is called Atrial Fibrillation (or a-fib).

When the heart is in a-fib, it’s beating fast and irregular; and as a result, the blood doesn’t flow as it should, making it more likely to clot. This might cause a stroke, which can also be fatal.


Lets take a closer look at this.



Stroke is the 4th leading cause of death, but the #1 cause of disability.

There are 3 different types of Strokes: Transient Ischemic Attack (or TIA), Ischemic stroke, and hemorrhagic Stroke.

While TIA’s and ischemic strokes can both be caused by blood clots, Ischemic strokes can also be brought about by a narrowing of the arteries. This can be a result of plaque build-up, but it can also be a consequence of the bodies natural defense to a drop in oxygen; like what happens in people with OSA.

Throw a-fib in the mix, and you have all the makings of a stroke waiting to happen.

However, sleep apnea can also cause emotional and mental problems.



Studies show that men diagnosed with sleep apnea are twice as likely to show clinical signs of depression than the general population. For women, the statistics are even worse. You gals are 5 times more likely to have these symptoms.

Reduced oxygen could definitely be a factor. But the poor quality of sleep that you experience with OSA in itself could leave you feeling pretty crappy.

Interestingly,  CPAP has been shown to reduce signs of depression; so if you’re depressed, but also exhibit some of these other signs, a talk with your Dr. is highly recommended.

But what’s even more crucial is the injury OSA causes to your brain.



While you’re awake, toxins build up in your brain from various things you’re exposed to. During sleep, an area of the brain is activated and flushes out these impurities. Not only that, but sleep also plays a role in the storage of memories.

So, a good nights rest literally cleans out your brain and helps with concentration and recall. When this process is constantly interrupted, you’re memory and thoughts become foggy. But worse than that, those nasty toxins that are left damage areas of your brain.

In fact, OSA damages critical areas of the brain that control not only memory, but balance, and the nervous system as well.  For instance, research has shown that the part of the brain where memory is processed is actually smaller in people with sleep apnea.

One can only wonder if there’s also a connection between sleep apnea and Alzheimer’s Disease.

The good news is that if this brain damage was caused by OSA, treatment with CPAP has reversed these effects.


So, what can I do if I suspect I have Sleep Apnea?

Ask yourself the following STOP questions:

S-Do you Snore loudly?

   T-Are you Tired all the time?

   O-Has anyone Observed you stop breathing in your sleep?

   P-Do you have high blood Pressure?

If you answered yes to any of these, a talk with your Dr. would be a good idea as further testing may be necessary.

Treatment for OSA includes the use of CPAP, Oral appliances, or various Surgical procedures; although CPAP  is the main treatment option.


What is CPAP, and how does it work?

CPAP, often mispronounced ‘C-Pack’, stands for Continuous Positive Air Pressure; and works by using air pressure to help hold your airway open. This keeps you breathing well; which also helps keep your oxygen levels up


I’m on Oxygen, can’t I just use that?

Oxygen will also help maintain good oxygen levels, but because it’s not pressurized, does nothing to assist in keeping your airway open.  While 02 keeps the oxygen in your blood from getting too low, studies show it’s not as effective in lowering blood pressure as CPAP



Getting a good night’s sleep is more than just waking up feeling refreshed. Being awake and actually having some energy for daily activities is nice, but that’s really just a side effect of CPAP. The real more serious health problems of sleep apnea are dealt with, and you actually have a chance to live a longer more healthy life.

So if you suspect that you, or someone you know, has sleep apnea, do yourself and/or them a favor and see your Dr.

Next time, we’ll take a closer look at your heart, and how to take care of this very important organ that gives you life.