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.