young adult man sleeping on his back with mouth openWe know that sleep apnea significantly increases major heart risks such as stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and even cardiovascular death. However, it’s not always clear why.

High blood pressure is one link to deadly heart complications. People with high blood pressure have an elevated risk of cardiovascular problems. Now research is also strengthening another link between obstructive sleep apnea and heart risk: atrial fibrillation (Afib).

Recent research shows a significant and dose-related increase in atrial fibrillation risk from obstructive sleep apnea. It also shows that people with sleep apnea are less likely to get good results from Afib treatments. If you have Afib and are concerned about your sleep apnea risk or want sleep apnea treatment, let a Lee’s Summit sleep dentist at the Center for TMJ & Sleep Apnea help.

What Is Atrial Fibrillation?

Afib is the most common form of irregular heartbeat (heart arrhythmia). If you have this type of arrhythmia, your atria–the top chambers of your heart–beat out of sync with the ventricles–the lower chambers.

People in Lee’s Summit with Afib are at an increased risk of stroke, blood clots, heart failure, and other heart-related complications, including cardiovascular death. Treatment for Afib includes medications to help your heart beat more regularly, blood-thinning medications to combat clot risk, and surgical procedures. Typically, surgical procedures for Afib use a catheter threaded through your blood vessels to reach your heart rather than open-heart procedures.

Many people with Afib experience no symptoms. However, some people in Lee’s Summit with Afib might notice a racing heart (heart palpitations), shortness of breath, chest pain, and weakness. There is not a strong correlation between symptoms and risk.

Sleep Apnea and Atrial Fibrillation Risks

Research has long supported a link between Afib and sleep apnea. However, the new study published in Medicine on July 29 provides some of the best evidence we’ve seen. In this study, researchers compiled fifteen previous studies on sleep apnea and Afib. The studies ranged in size from under a hundred to over half a million. Overall, researchers calculated that having sleep apnea increases your risk of Afib about 2.5 times (250%).

However, some of the individual connections are more interesting. The study found that people with sleep apnea were 1.7 times as likely to develop “unexplained” sudden onset Afib. People with sleep apnea were 2.7 times more likely to develop Afib after a heart surgery procedure. Most seriously, people with sleep apnea were 2.9 times as likely to have Afib after one of the most invasive treatments for the condition: ablation. In ablation, your cardiologist or surgeon will burn away the parts of your heart that cause an irregular heartbeat.

In other words, in addition to being more likely to develop Afib, people with sleep apnea are more likely to have Afib that resists treatment. This is similar to what we see with high blood pressure. People with sleep apnea are more likely to have high blood pressure that doesn’t respond to medications. We know treating sleep apnea can help reduce blood pressure.

This study didn’t look at whether treating sleep apnea reduced Afib risks. However, the study did find that the risks were related to the severity of your sleep apnea. This suggests that it’s likely reducing your sleep apnea severity will also lower your risk of Afib and related complications.

Get Tested and Treated for Sleep Apnea in Lee’s Summit

There’s another important fact to know about sleep apnea and Afib. People with Afib often don’t have the usual sleep-apnea symptoms, such as daytime sleepiness. Since this is one of the most noticeable symptoms of sleep apnea, people with Afib might be at even higher risk for having undiagnosed sleep apnea.

Therefore, the professional consensus is that if you are diagnosed with Afib in Lee’s Summit, you should be tested for sleep apnea. Overall, estimates suggest that 50-80% of people with Afib have sleep apnea. These people could see their risk of complications decrease with sleep apnea treatment.

If your doctor has diagnosed you with Afib in Lee’s Summit, let the Center for TMJ & Sleep Apnea help. We can get you a home sleep test when appropriate or refer you to a sleep doctor for testing at a sleep lab. Then we can help you find the sleep apnea treatment that’s best suited for you, including oral appliance therapy, a more comfortable and convenient alternative to CPAP.

Please call (816) 795-1000 or use our online form today to request an appointment at the Center for TMJ & Sleep Apnea, located in Lee’s Summit near the 83rd St. Exit (Exit 11) from 470.