Medical professionals are finding sleep disorders and deprivation to be linked to serious health conditions such as heart disease. Sleep apnea is a condition that causes breathing to start and stop during sleep and can fall into two categories: obstructive or central sleep apnea. Central sleep apnea involves the brain not sending the right signals to the muscles that control your breathing and is less common in general, but is found in 30-40% of heart failure patients. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by the repetitive collapse of the muscles of the surrounding upper airway during sleep. This can lead to fragmented sleep, a drop in oxygen levels in the body from reduced airflow that triggers surges of adrenaline, and increases general inflammation in the body overall.
Individuals with sleep apnea are at higher risk of high blood pressure (hypertension), stroke, pulmonary hypertension, glucose intolerance and diabetes, congestive heart failure, heart rhythm abnormalities, heart attack and sudden cardiac death. Symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (falling asleep driving, falling asleep on the job, feeling like you have not slept all night upon awakening in the am, inability to carry on daily activities due to fatigue)
- Snoring and witnessed apneas (waking up from a snort) are highly sensitive to sleep apnea
- Snoring – usually noted by the bed partner
- Witness apnea or strange breathing noises at night
- Waking up gasping for breath
- Frequent limb movements throughout the night
- Frequent morning headaches
- Lack of concentration
Symptoms for women can be different
- Not always the classic symptoms of snoring, daytime sleepiness
- Insomnia, headache, fatigue, depression, anxiety
- Sleep disruption is a common complaint during menopause due to night sweats, fragmented sleep, insomnia and restless legs.
- As women age and enter menopause, there may be weight gain which can lead to the development of sleep apnea
- Hot flashes are a common complaint during menopause but are also associated with sleep apnea
- A study from the Mayo Clinic noted that women with severe hot flashes have a 1.87x higher risk for sleep apnea than those with mild to moderate hot flashes.
- Should consider a sleep study in women with severe problems with sleep or hot flashes in menopause
It is extremely important to discuss sleep apnea with your primary care physician, cardiologist or other healthcare professionals if you suspect the disorder within yourself, a friend or family member. To diagnose the condition, some type of sleep study is necessary. Sleep studies can be performed either in a sleep lab or at home, depending on other conditions a patient might have. Sleep apnea is a completely treatable disorder, commonly treated with the use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine or other oral devices such as a mandibular advancement device that is fitted by a dentist. By detecting and treating sleep apnea early, a myriad of cardiovascular diseases and conditions can be prevented or decreased.
Dr. Traci Turner is a cardiologist at Cone Health Medical Group HeartCare at Church Street. She is also board certified in Sleep Medicine and has a special interest in sleep-related disorders that directly have an impact on Cardiovascular Disease processes. Dr. Turner completed medical school at Pennsylvania State University and her residency at University of Virginia Health Sciences Center. She completed her fellowship at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.