Does Sleep Apnea Cause High Blood Pressure?
Sleep apnea is a potentially dangerous sleep disorder that results when your breathing stops and starts throughout sleep. It's also known to cause excessive snoring. And this isn't your typical kind of snoring... People with sleep apnea tend to snore more loudly and more inconsistently than standard snorers. But that's not the only side effect the condition can cause. Sleep apnea also has links to high blood pressure.
What Is Obstructive Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is one of the most common sleep-related breathing disorders. In OSA, the upper airway is either completely or partially blocked. This causes a decrease or absence of air available for breathing during sleep.
A partial blockage of the airways is called “hypopnea,” and the almost complete obstruction of the airways is called “apnea.” In both cases, due to the constriction of the airways, the blood oxygen saturation falls.
OSA affects the quality of sleep and leads to sleep disturbances. It also has other health consequences as well. Frequent episodes of OSA can interfere with restorative sleep and the level of oxygen in the blood.
What Is High Blood Pressure?
Our heart pumps blood to the rest of the body. This pumping action results in the blood exerting a certain amount of pressure on the arteries’ walls as it flows through them. If this pressure remains high, then the resulting condition is termed high blood pressure or hypertension.
Consistent high blood pressure is dangerous for the body. It can result in heart disease, heart failure, kidney disease, vision loss, a hemorrhagic stroke, and obstructive sleep apnea.
What Is the Relationship Between Sleep Apnea and High Blood Pressure?
As mentioned, OSA causes a person’s airways to be blocked. This constriction puts a lot of stress on the cardiovascular system and causes oxygen deprivation, prompting the body to release stress hormones that increase blood pressure.
Healthy individuals experience a 10 to 20 percent decrease in blood pressure during night sleep. A phenomenon that is known as “blood pressure dipping.” In contrast, people with OSA experience a drop of less than 10% in their blood pressure, putting them at risk for cardiovascular disease.
How Does Sleep Apnea Cause High Blood Pressure?
When a person suddenly stops breathing for a short period during an episode of sleep apnea, their sympathetic nervous system is activated. This leads to a spike in their blood pressure along with other fight and flight symptoms.
This level of blood pressure can be sustained even when the instance of sleep apnea has passed. Frequent episodes can cause a person to wake up from their night sleep, and waking up because of OSA can further exacerbate sympathetic symptoms along with high blood pressure.
Obesity is the abnormal accumulation of fat in a person’s body. It exposes them to severe medical conditions. Studies have also shown that obesity can increase the risk of sleep apnea and hypertension.
OSA, high blood pressure, and obesity have a complex relationship. Each disease seems to affect one another cyclically.
Both OSA and obesity can cause an increase in leptin, the hunger-causing hormone, which further affects weight gain and stresses the cardiovascular system, putting the person at risk of heart disease and hypertension.
OSA also has a reciprocal effect on obesity. Sleep disturbances caused by OSA can lead to decreased quality of sleep. This lack of sleep increases cortisol, the stress hormone, and leptin in the body, both of which cause overeating.
Our body needs a hormone called insulin to use the glucose present in our blood for energy. When the cells in our body do not respond well to insulin, insulin resistance occurs.
As mentioned above, OSA presents a higher risk of obesity, which, in turn, can cause glucose spikes and increase insulin resistance. And if this insulin resistance is left untreated, then a person has a greater chance of developing diabetes.
Other than obesity, OSA, in some cases, can itself lead to insulin resistance regardless of body weight. OSA is known to cause high blood pressure, yet another factor that may cause insulin resistance.
Treatment for Sleep Apnea
The treatments for sleep apnea depend on the severity of individual cases. In milder cases, the doctor may recommend lifestyle changes. Primary advice includes losing weight as it helps in reducing the frequency of OSA episodes.
Other suggestions include refraining from alcohol use and sleeping pills, as these substances can increase the chances of airway collapses. Monitoring sleeping positions and treating any allergies are also commonly suggested primary solutions.
Positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy is suggested as the primary treatment for sleep apnea. It calls for the patient to wear a mask that pumps compressed air into their airway during sleep. This stream of air allows the airway to remain open and the patient to breathe properly during sleep.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment is a form of PAP in which the stream of compressed air provided by the mask is set to a single pressure. This machine allows the constant dilation of the airway, enabling better breathing during sleep.
Both these methods are very effective, but they have to be used constantly. Discontinuation can result in the recurrence of sleep apnea.
How Does the Treatment for Sleep Apnea Affect Blood Pressure?
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatments have been shown to have positive effects on patients suffering from high blood pressure, specifically those that suffer from resistant hypertension.
Research shows that people with moderate to severe OSA and hypertension experienced great improvements in their symptoms after undergoing constant CPAP treatment for 3-months. CPAP also helped patients reduce daily mean blood pressure.
People with non-dipper sleep patterns, meaning people whose blood pressure does not drop during sleep, and those with riser patterns, people who have a higher during-sleep blood pressure than when awake, were shown to have a higher risk of developing heart disease and strokes.
In another study, CPAP was shown to normalize the nocturnal blood pressure patterns of such people and decrease their chances of cardiovascular disease accordingly. The reason for this decrease in blood pressure is simply due to the sustained airflow to the lungs. As sleep apnea is kept under control, a person’s sympathetic system is not triggered frequently, resulting in sustained blood pressure.
Obstructive sleep apnea causes the collapse of the upper airways, resulting in a partial or complete block to breathing. These episodes can cause a person’s blood pressure to rise significantly because they trigger the fight or flight response.
The triggering of this response can result in the person developing hypertension along with other health issues, such as obesity and diabetes. All of these conditions are related and have reciprocal effects on each other.
Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), the treatment proposed for OSA, has shown to improve not only OSA but also high blood pressure symptoms. It uses a stream of compressed air that is funneled through a mask to help keep the patient’s airways open, allowing them to sleep peacefully and without interruption.
Of course, if you still continue experiencing problems sleeping, you can incorporate other aides into the routine. Sandland Sleep provides all-natural and all-clean solutions for your sleep problems.
Sleep apnea affects everyone differently. The effects vary according to the patient’s medical history and other associated factors. How much a person’s blood pressure is affected by sleep apnea can also differ according to the severity of the problem. Usually, a person with sleep apnea might experience, on average, a 20% increase in their blood pressure every night.
The CPAP machine lowers blood pressure by maintaining constant airflow to the body. The pressure is adjusted to a single baseline, which ensures the airway will not collapse during sleep.
The ensuing decrease in OSA episodes prevents the body from going into frequent sympathetic responses throughout the night, reducing stress on the cardiovascular system and lowering blood pressure.
Sleep apnea raises blood pressure because it invokes our fight or flight response frequently during the night. The obstruction of breathing caused by OSA puts stress on our bodies; as a result, our sympathetic nervous system becomes hyperactive, leading to an increase in blood pressure.
Suddenly waking up due to a major sleep apnea episode can also induce further stress responses. Over time, constant episodes of OSA can lead to the development of hypertension.
Poor sleep quality and lack of sleep can cause high blood pressure in many ways.
When our stress levels spike, the sympathetic system becomes activated and causes an immediate spike in our blood pressure. Over time, a person can develop high blood pressure due to frequent spikes in blood pressure coupled with sleeping problems.
Sleep problems can also cause a person to overeat, gain weight, and develop obesity and diabetes, resulting in an increased risk for cardiovascular problems and high blood pressure.
In many cases, a person suffering from sleep apnea is not aware of the problem. The symptoms are not that apparent, especially in milder cases; however, some common symptoms can be observed.
The most obvious reasons include difficulty breathing while sleeping and/or frequently waking up from sleep due to breathing difficulties. A person can also experience daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, and irritability.
Sometimes people may also experience attention problems if their quality of sleep is affected by sleep apnea. Snoring is also a common symptom of sleep apnea; however, this does not mean that every case of snoring stems from sleep apnea.