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World Heart Day: Learn the Facts About Sleep Apnea and Heart Disease

world heart dayHeart disease claims about 1 million lives per year in the United States, making it the number one cause of death among both men and women.

To bring awareness to this important health issue, the World Heart Federation declared September 29th

World Heart Day

back in 2000. Each year, the organization strives to spread the word about heart disease and focuses on key issues that relate to heart health.

In honor of World Heart Day 2014, we want to take this opportunity to educate people on the link between heart disease and sleep apnea.

What is sleep apnea? 

Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that affects upwards of 18 million Americans. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association:

“There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive, central, and mixed. Of the three, obstructive sleep apnea, often called OSA for short, is the most common. Despite the difference in the root cause of each type, in all three, people with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times during the night and often for a minute or longer. In most cases the sleeper is unaware of these breath stoppages because they don't trigger a full awakening.” 

Because the sleeper is often unaware of what’s happening, sleep apnea is widely undiagnosed. In fact, ASAA statistics reveal that 80% of people who have sleep apnea remain undiagnosed.

Unfortunately, untreated sleep apnea is associated with a whole host of health issues – including heart disease.

What is the link between sleep apnea and heart disease?

While it is still unclear whether there is a cause-and-effect relationship between sleep apnea and heart disease, Dr. Virend K. Somers of the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, writes that “people with cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke have a high prevalence of sleep apnea.”

The connection between hypertension (high blood pressure) and sleep apnea is particularly strong, with evidence suggesting that the chance of developing hypertension increases significantly in individuals with sleep apnea.The bottom line is that if you experience any of the

“The evidence is very strong for the relationship between sleep apnea and hypertension and cardiovascular disease generally, so people really need to know that,” Dr. Donna Arnett, chair and professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told the American Heart Association.

How can CPAP therapy help?

CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy is one of the common and most effective methods of treatment for sleep apnea. CPAP machines work by increasing air pressure in the throat so that the airway doesn’t collapse. In one recent study, researchers from the University of Wisconsin found evidence that CPAP therapy reduces high blood pressure. According to Dr. Somers, “the available evidence tells us that when you treat people with sleep apnea using CPAP, their blood pressure is not only lower at night—it's also lower during the day.”

The bottom line is that if you experience any of the symptoms of sleep apnea, it’s important to consult a specialist as soon as possible. Sleep apnea is a relatively manageable disorder, and putting the time and energy into treating it can help you keep your heart healthy.

Join thousands of others in signing the World Heart Day petition to call on national and international leaders to recognize the global burden of cardiovascular disease and to prioritize the need for heart-healthy environments.