Did you know that February is National Heart Month? Organizations like the British Heart Foundation are raising awareness of the dangers of heart disease – and with good reason.
What many people don’t realize is that obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) can significantly increase the risk of sudden cardiac death.
OSA and heart health
A study by scientists monitored 10,000 people for around 5 years, observing incidents of resuscitated or fatal sudden cardiac death.
“The prevalence of obstructive sleep apnoea in Western populations is high and will likely only continue to grow given the obesity epidemic and direct relationship between obesity and sleep apnoea,” said Apoor Gami, lead author of the study and a cardiologist at Midwest Heart Specialists – Advocate Medical Group in Elmhust, Illinois.
For many years, researchers have understood that OSA can lead to several heart conditions. These include heart attacks, high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation (feeling your heart race or flutter in your chest). The scientists in this study wanted to look at the relationship between sleep apnoea and sudden cardiac death, after previously discovering that people with OSA more frequently died suddenly from cardiac causes.
Of the 10,701 people they followed, 142 experienced sudden cardiac death. The most common predictor of this was being:
- aged over 60
- having around 20 apnoea episodes an hour
- having a lowest oxygen saturation level of below 78%.
Low oxygen saturation happens in OSA sufferers when air doesn’t flow into their lungs while they’re sleeping. Because of this, their blood oxygen levels drop. Researchers showed that a drop below 78% increases the risk of sudden cardiac death by 80%.
Improving heart happiness
“Treating sleep apnoea in one person can improve the quality of life of both bed partners, and may have the added benefit of helping to prevent cardiovascular disease,” said Virend K. Somers, senior author on the study and a professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minn. “If the spouse sees the bed partner stop breathing repeatedly during sleep, this is an important clue that he or she probably has sleep apnoea.”
The best thing to do if you suspect that you or your partner suffer from OSA is to visit your doctor. They’ll be able to advise you on what treatment is best for you. This often involves using a CPAP machine or an oral device (also known as a mandibular advancement device) to help keep your airway open.
Heart health is hugely important – so if you snore loudly, don’t ignore the warning signs.
February marks National Heart Month. The British Heart Foundation have launched a nationwide ‘Dechox’ challenge to raise funds for vital heart research. Learn more about the Dechox challenge by clicking here.