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Do You Have Sleep Apnea? Your Heart May be at Risk

Jon Barron or staff at Jon Barron Baseline of Health® Foundation
Updated: 
November 08, 2022

If you snore, chances are pretty good that you have been made aware of it. Anyone who has ever shared a room with you has probably made sure to complain about your snoring. Other than disturbing your significant other’s sleep from time to time, you might think snoring is not such a big deal. But you’d probably be wrong about that. Your snoring could be unhealthy if you’re a woman, even if you’ve never been diagnosed with sleep apnea. In fact, new research suggests it could be problematic for your heart.

Study Explores Snoring and Heart Health

The study, which took place at Munich University Hospital in Germany, found that snoring may be associated with the more rapid development of heart damage in women than in men. (1) These results are based on an investigation that included 4,877 British men and women. These subjects were a subset of the approximately 500,000 individuals throughout the United Kingdom who had taken part in the U.K. Biobank, a collection of health-related data.
 
More than half of the volunteers, 2,536 in total, did not report snoring or have a diagnosis of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Of the remainder, 1,919 snored but had no diagnosis, and 38 had been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which the muscles of the throat relax sporadically, blocking the airway.
 
MRI tests had been performed on all the participants to examine their hearts. The imaging showed that in both male and female subjects who snore or have obstructive sleep apnea, the left ventricle of the heart was more likely to be enlarged, suggesting damage is occurring within the main pumping chamber, which results in the heart having to work harder. 

woman sleeping with CPAP machine to prevent sleep apnea which can cause heart problems in some people.
Gender Differences in Snoring and Sleep Apnea

But gender differences appeared when the researchers began comparing those who snore or have obstructive sleep apnea to those without either issue. Looking at the imaging results within that framework, it became clear that the size of the left ventricle in women who snore is considerably more pronounced than it is in their female peers who do not snore.
 
This disparity of enlarged left ventricles being markedly worse in women snorers versus women non-snorers than the difference that appears in male snorers versus non-snorers implies that women may experience earlier damage to their hearts, perhaps related to undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea. Although the study was not designed to prove that sleep apnea causes potentially dangerous heart alterations, it does show a strong connection between the two.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is Not Just a Snoring Problem

But why would a condition involving snoring be linked with heart issues? Obstructive sleep apnea is actually quite a bit more serious than just a snoring problem. Sufferers also experience episodes of breathing cessation during slumber, and they typically awaken from these periods startled and gasping, in addition to experiencing daytime fatigue, headaches, and difficulties concentrating. What’s more, obstructive sleep apnea has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, hearing loss, high blood pressure, and other health issues. 
 
And this is not the first time OSA has been associated with heart disease. A 2010 study at the Boston University School of Medicine in Massachusetts found that obstructive sleep apnea increases the risk of heart failure in men. (2)

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Sleep Apnea And Heart Health

Ultimately, the main takeaway from the current study is that if you snore, especially if you are a woman, it is essential to undergo a sleep study to determine whether or not you have obstructive sleep apnea. A sleep study takes place overnight, typically in a hospital or sleep center, and you are monitored by an EEG machine to obtain information on sleep cycles, breathing rates, and more. The American Sleep Apnea Association estimates that as many as 80 percent of American adults with the condition are undiagnosed.
 
If testing does determine that you have obstructive sleep apnea, your treatment may involve the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine while you sleep to help your airways remain open. But there are many other options as well, including an oral appliance to hold your jaw in position and prevent airway blockage, getting allergies under control, and losing weight.

 

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Jon Barron is the founder of the Baseline of Health® Foundation, whose website attracts millions of visitors worldwide so people can learn about health and nutrition for free. He has lectured internationally and featured on many regional and syndicated media programs as an expert in disease prevention, anti-aging, and nutrition.

 

 

Resources

1.) Adrian Curta, M.D., head of cardiac imaging, Munich University Hospital, Germany; Tetyana Kendzerska, M.D., Ph.D., sleep physician, Ottawa Hospital Center, assistant professor, division of respirology, University of Ottawa, and associate scientist, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa, Canada; Nov. 29, 2018, presentation, Radiological  Society of North America annual meeting, Chicago

2.) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3117288/ 
Gottlieb, D. J., Yenokyan, G., Newman, A. B., Punjabi, N. M., Quan, S. F., Redline, S., Resnick, H. E., Tong, E. K., Diener-West, M., & Shahar, E. (2010). A Prospective Study of Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Incident Coronary Heart Disease and Heart Failure: The Sleep Heart Health Study. Circulation, 122(4), 352. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.901801