It is estimated that approximately 22 million Americans have some form of sleep apnea, with as many of 80 percent of those cases undiagnosed. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) makes up the bulk of sleep apnea cases. Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) is also linked to sleep apnea. About half of those patients who have AFib also suffer from sleep apnea. So, what are these conditions and how are they related to sleep apnea?
Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) and Sleep Apnea
AFib (Atrial Fibrillation) is an abnormal heart rhythm. This condition, affecting 33.5 million people around the world, is an irregular or quivering heartbeat that’s caused by fast, disorganized electrical signals. This rapid, irregular contraction causes blood to pool in the atria. This may allow a blood clot to form. If the clot breaks free and enters the bloodstream, it can cause a stroke. The connection with sleep apnea is complex and is still being researched. Of the many conditions that may cause AFib, including diabetes and high blood pressure, one is sleep apnea. However, AFib may also cause sleep apnea. It has been found that CPAP therapy, in addition to successfully treating sleep apnea, might also benefit patients with AFib.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a condition where, while sleeping, your breaking becomes shallow. You may even stop breathing for a brief period. For many people, this may happen throughout the night. There are different kinds of sleep apnea. In Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), the upper airway becomes partially or completely blocked. Often this is caused if the tongue has collapsed against the soft palate, which then collapses against the back of the throat. When this occurs, the diaphragm and chest muscles must work harder to open that blockage to pull air into the lungs. In this situation, you may find that your breathing resumes with a snort, gasp or jerk of the body. Unless you’re woken up by this, you might not even know it is happening. OSA can reduce the flow of oxygen into the organs and may cause the heart to beat irregularly, as in atrial fibrillation.
Warning Signs of OSA
If you’ve been very sleepy during the day or upon waking, have a sore throat, dry mouth or a headache, you may have obstructive sleep apnea. Other symptoms include difficulty in concentrating, depression, irritability or forgetfulness. These are all side effects of not getting enough restful sleep. Other issues may include snoring, night sweats or waking up feeling like you’re choking or gasping.
Who is Most at Risk for Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
People who are at the greatest risk for OSA include those who are overweight, have a thick neck or smaller mouth, nose or throat airways. Enlarged tonsils or excessive tissue in the back of the throat may also be risk factors. A large tongue might also block the airway, as might a deviated septum. Although OSA isn’t part of aging, it does become more likely as people get older. Men are also more likely to suffer from OSA than women. Other factors that may increase the risk of obstructive sleep apnea include high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking. Those at a greater risk of heart failure or stroke are also at a greater risk of developing OSA.
CPAP: An Effective Therapy for OSA
Fortunately, there are effective treatments available for OSA. The most commonly used is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), which has been proven to be successful for both moderate and severe forms of obstructive sleep apnea.