While snoring may mean trouble for your partner’s sleep, it could also signal trouble for your heart. Experts at Baylor College of Medicine say snoring is one of the signs of underlying obstructive sleep apnea, which increases your risk of cardiovascular disease.
"When a person suffers from obstructive sleep apnea, we often find they also have high blood pressure and some studies show that those patients with obstructive sleep apnea also have a higher cardiovascular mortality rate," said Dr. Ihab Hamzeh, assistant professor of medicine – cardiology. During obstructive sleep apnea the airway is blocked and the sleeper’s breathing is disrupted. This is caused by the tongue and throat muscles collapsing and blocking the airway. It can happen multiple times during the night. The sleeper usually terminates those events by transiently waking up, chocking or gasping. This leads to restless and non-refreshing sleep.
"Those who have high blood pressure, diabetes or are obese – all risk factors for heart disease – tend to also suffer from obstructive sleep apnea," said Hamzeh. "About 1 in 2 people who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea also suffer from high blood pressure."
Usually blood pressure goes down a bit at night during sleep, but for those with obstructive sleep apnea their bodies never get a break.
"If someone has high blood pressure and it is hard to control, we can look into whether or not they have sleep apnea. The gasping for breath, lack of oxygen and sleep disruption puts stress on the body," Hamzeh said. "That stress can also increase the risk of having irregular heart rhythm". Obstructive sleep apnea has also been linked to an increased risk of stroke.
A recent study shows that women’s cardiovascular mortality increased as the obstructive sleep apnea worsened. Fortunately it appears that adequate treatment with CPAP machine improved outcomes.
Compared to those with only cardiovascular disease, those who have coronary artery disease in combination with obstructive sleep apnea tend to have a worse outcome with a higher risk of having heart attacks, stroke or death.
Hamzeh said that there are no definitive studies that show a direct link between treating sleeping apnea and preventing or curing heart ailments. However, there is a strong connection between obstructive sleep apnea and heart problems: the two share common risk factors, and when present together the patient is at a higher risk.
"Treating one issue doesn’t solve the other; it does not eliminate the risk of death," Hamzeh said. "All issues must be treated. Coronary artery disease should be followed closely by a cardiologist. For sleep issues, a sleep expert should be consulted to find the best treatment, such as a CPAP machine, to help keep the airway open."