Can Sleep Apnea Cause High Blood Pressure



What is Sleep Apnea (SA) ?Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea is a sleep disturbance which, according to Wikipedia, is characterized by frequent pauses in breathing, or periods of shallow breathing during sleep.  These happen frequently during the night and may last anywhere from just a few seconds to, alarmingly, a number of minutes!!  This of course is very disruptive to a person’s sleep and may result in tiredness and fatigue during the daytime hours.  Very often the disorder goes undiagnosed because the person affected does not even realize they have the condition.

There are two forms of Sleep Apnea:  Obstructive (OSA), which is by far the more common variant, and Central (CSA) which affects a very small percentage of the population.  In OSA, breathing is interrupted by a blockage of airflow, while in CSA breathing stops due to a lack of effort to breathe (Wikipedia).   In some cases a person may exhibit a combination of the two forms.


The Sleep Apnea Hypertension Connection

Going back to the original question posed in the title of this post, there is indeed a connection between this sleep disorder and the blood pressure levels.  In my research I have found an interesting two-way interconnection between these two conditions.

And that is namely that an individual who suffers from sleep apnea is in a higher risk category for developing high blood pressure.  Whilst at the same time someone who is dealing with hypertension is more prone to developing sleep apnea.  One possible explanation for this is that many people with one or both of the conditions are often obese, so this may be a contributing factor.

The Why in the equation

So this begs the question – why does sleep apnea cause hypertension?

Well, the sudden drops in oxygen being supplied to the vital organs and around the body in general by the frequent interruption of regular breathing rhythms make the circulatory system work harder which thereby causes increased blood pressure.  Thus decreased oxygen, and the corresponding increase in carbon dioxide, kicks the sympathetic nervous system into action which likewise leads to a raise in blood pressure.

Additionally, and as I covered in a previous post,  – click here for more details – the disruption of a good night’s sleep will  lead to higher BP.

In effect, this is one of the several complications of having ongoing and undetected sleep apnea, and eventually it will also increase the risk of stroke and cardiac arrest.





How to test for Sleep Apnea

As we have seen, it is very often difficult for the person who has sleep apnea to diagnose it him or herself.  There are some symptoms which suggest a problem, one of which is heavy snoring interspersed with choking and gasping.  Very often a partner will be the first one to become aware of this.  However chronic snoring does not necessarily mean you have sleep apnea!

One of the easiest ways to test for sure whether you do have Sleep Apnea is to use the Home Based Sleep Apnea monitor.  The video below describes exactly how this test works:


Now you have Sleep Apnea.. how to treat SA successfully.

By far the most effective means of treating Sleep Apnea successfully is by the use of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Therapy, or CPAP for short.

CPAP

The CPAP machine is designed to provide a constant or metered flow of air which provides the required pressure to keep your breathing airways open.

The therapy also needs a mask, or other device that fits over your nose, or mouth and nose together, straps to ensure the mask stays in position, a plastic tube that connects the mask to the motor of the machine, and a motor that blows air into the tube.  So there is quite a bit of paraphernalia which needs to be applied and sized properly.

There are all sorts of styles and sizes of accessory equipment on the market which makes the challenge of getting ‘the right fit’ somewhat easier.

But this is a challenge worth persevering with because studies have shown that patients diagnosed with sleep apnea and receiving constant CPAP treatments every night, do see an improvement in their blood pressure.

As sleep specialist, Vishesh K. Kapur, MD, of the University of Washington in Seattle, notes:

“We know that obstructive sleep apnea is a potential cause of high blood pressure, and we know that CPAP use is associated with reductions in blood pressure in people with hypertension,”

What is also interesting is that one study conducted in Spain has confirmed Dr Kapur’s further observation that

” there is reasonable evidence that this …(CPAP) …treatment can prevent high blood pressure in patients who don’t already have it.”

In this study around 1,900 sleep apnea patients, who did not present with hypertension, were monitored for an average of 11 years.  The researchers from The Hospital Universitario in Zarazoga, Spain found that patients who were prescribed CPAP, but refused to follow the treatment, had almost twice the risk for developing high blood pressure, as people without sleep apnea.

This is a significant finding as it points to the importance of timely diagnosis and effective treatment of Sleep Apnea patients to prevent further health problems, such as high blood pressure from occuring.


What about any natural cures for sleep apnea?

I know that many of you are probably wondering about this as a possibility.

So let’s see what there is…

Whilst it is true that CPAP therapy is seen as the so-called gold-standard for SA treatment, and especially by the medical community, I am pleased to say that there are some other things you can try to help alleviate the condition.

The first one refers back to my comment earlier that obesity is linked to both the development of SA and Hypertension.  So if you are overweight one very good starting point would be to look at losing weight.  One very effective weight loss diet is the DASH Diet or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.  The great thing about his diet is that it has not only helped many, many people gain control over their blood pressure… but one fantastic side effect of following this diet is that it has led to weight loss as well!!


==▶︎ Click for More Information on the DASH Diet ◀︎==


Another way to self-treat sleep apnea is to consider how you sleep.  Do you typically lie on your back to sleep?  If so, you are more likely to develop SA.

So instead, try lying on your side with pillow support, as in the picture below:

 

lying on side

A third way which may help with SA is by using special oral exercises designed to strengthen certain muscles in the mouth and throat.  The video below talks about some of these:

 

 

Finally it may be possible to help address the symptoms of sleep apnea by concentrating on one of the most common signs – chronic snoring.  There are devices on the market to alleviate such snoring… for example the

PREMIUM Anti Snore Chin Strap by ZARU


In Conclusion

Sleep Apnea is a sleep disorder which, if left untreated over time, can lead to the risk of developing serious health issues, one of which being high blood pressure.

Interestingly, my cousin had the opportunity to participate in a sleep apnea test, like the one I described above, when some of the volunteers dropped out.  He did it mainly out of curiosity because in the evenings he had a habit of dozing after supper.

Well, it turned out that he had a mild form of sleep apnea and is now being treated for it successfully with an oral device which fits in his mouth whilst he sleeps, and it is helping him sleep much better.

Since Sleep Apnea is most common in adults in the 35-70 age bracket and in men more so than in women, it really would be a good idea to have it checked out by your Doctor – and especially if you are also dealing with a blood pressure issue as well.  And if you are diagnosed with SA there is a good chance that by treating it, you may very well be helping your BP levels, too!


If you have any comments or feedback about the link between sleep apnea and high blood pressure I would love to hear about them below.

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