It’s crazy to think how much more information exists now about sleep apnea than just 30 years ago.
About 30 years ago was when my dad had his first heart attack, related to high blood pressure.
A second heart attack brought home the severity of his condition, and while he was treated with medication, this was around the time that information was starting to make itself known in the medical industry regarding sleep apnea.
Thankfully, at the age of 82, my dad has not suffered any further heart attacks, and according to a recent visit with his cardiologist, things are under control.
- What exactly is OSA?
- How common is high blood pressure?
- What’s the link between OSA and high blood pressure?
- What can be done about it?
- The first step is to get tested for sleep apnea.
What exactly is OSA?
Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a condition that affects one in twenty people in Quebec.
Unconscious breathing interruptions cause sufferers to experience drops in oxygen levels to the brain, which makes the body “wake up” in order to start breathing again. When this happens, the patient will have a sudden, snore-like deep inhalation, usually without achieving full wakefulness, and then settle back into a normal breathing pattern.
These disturbances can happen dozens of times per hour. While it normally doesn’t result in conscious awareness, it severely hampers normal, rejuvenating sleep and will leave the sufferer feeling tired the next day even if they had a full night in bed.
The health consequences of this can include grogginess, headaches, weight gain, low sex drive, memory problems and high blood pressure.
How common is high blood pressure?
According to a report released by Statistics Canada in February 2019, nearly one-quarter of Canadian men (24%) and women (23%) have hypertension. “Hypertension is the leading modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease and is the leading risk factor for death worldwide. ”1
Long established risk factors for high blood pressure include obesity, smoking, poor diet or a sedentary lifestyle. What’s less commonly known as a risk factor is OSA, but according to multiple studies there is a clear link between OSA and high blood pressure.
What’s the link between OSA and high blood pressure?
In an article published in the European Respiratory Journal, there is a clear link shown between OSA and hypertension.
Citing a study of over 12,000 patients, the author, R. Doug McEvoy, concludes that the results are, “clear cut and add to the growing body of evidence implicating OSA as a cause of hypertension”2.
McEvoy points out that OSA events cause blood pressure surges at night, but also result in changes to the body that increase blood pressure during the day.
What can be done about it?
A key point in the StatsCan health report is that hypertension is a modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease: it can be combated.
Diet, exercise and quitting smoking are certainly important, but so is getting a good night’s sleep.
Continuous Positive Air Pressure (CPAP) therapy is the leading treatment for OSA.
According to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, “in patients with cardiovascular disease or multiple cardiovascular risk factors, the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea with CPAP… resulted in a significant reduction in blood pressure.”3
The first step is to get tested for sleep apnea.
If you have OSA symptoms and feel that your sleep is not restful, it’s important to talk to your doctor about it.
Here’s a checklist to review with your doctor for signs of sleep apnea.
- Loud snoring
- Occasionally waking up during the night feeling that you’re choking or gasping
- Restless sleep
- Having a sore or dry throat in the morning
- Having a headache in the morning
- Sleepiness, low energy or fatigue during the day
- Feeling sleepy behind the wheel
- Weight gain
- Erectile dysfunction
- Forgetfulness, mood changes, and a decreased interest in sex
- Health Reports: Blood pressure, hypertension and leading risk factors, Statscan
- R. Doug McEvoy, Obstructive sleep apnoea and hypertension: the ESADA study, European Respiratory Journal 2014 44: 835-83 ERS
- Gottlieb DJ, et al., CPAP versus oxygen in obstructive sleep apnea, N Engl J Med. 2014 Jun 12;370(24):2276-85 NCBI