Is sleep apnea a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases?

cardiovascular diseases -

India happens to be the second most sleep-deprived country in the world. However, sleep is an essential part of human life and quality sleep is crucial for maintaining good health; for millions of people, sleep is a battle. 

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a common sleep disorder that amounts to approximately 36.34 million individuals suffering from it in India. OSA is characterized by frequent pauses in breathing during sleep, which can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. These pauses can occur as many as 30 times an hour, disrupting the sleep cycle and leading to a host of health problems, including cardiovascular disease. 

The untreated sleep apnea leads to heart attack and stroke. Patients with sleep apnea are 4 times more likely to develop heart arrythmia (abnormal heart rhythms) than people without this condition. 

Let’s get to know what Obstructive Sleep Apnea actually is and whom does it affect? 

OSA is a sleep disorder that occurs when the muscles in the back of the throat fail to keep the airway open during sleep, causing the individual to snore loudly and in some cases, gasp for air. The repeated episodes of breathing cessation, known as apneas, result in brief awakenings that can fragment sleep and lead to daytime sleepiness and fatigue. 

OSA can affect anyone, but it is more prevalent in middle-aged and older adults, especially those who are overweight or obese. Other risk factors for OSA include a family history of the disorder, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle. 

During OSA, the collapse of the upper airway causes intermittent hypoxia, which leads to the activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones can increase blood pressure, heart rate, and the risk of arrhythmias, which can cause damage to the heart over time. 

How OSA contribute to CVDs? 

Cardiovascular disease refers to a group of conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels, including coronary artery disease, heart failure, and stroke. OSA has been linked to an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, and research has shown that individuals with OSA are at a higher risk of developing hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. 

The link between the two is quite complex and here are several mechanisms to explain the same: 

Sympathetic Nervous System Activation 

One proposed mechanism for the increased risk of cardiovascular disease in individuals with OSA is sympathetic nervous system activation. During episodes of apnea, the body responds by releasing adrenaline and other stress hormones, leading to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Over time, this repeated activation of the sympathetic nervous system can lead to hypertension and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. 


Another mechanism that has been proposed to explain the link between OSA and cardiovascular disease is inflammation. OSA has been shown to increase the levels of inflammatory markers in the body, such as C-reactive protein and interleukin-6. These markers are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, as inflammation can lead to the formation of plaques in the arteries, which can lead to atherosclerosis. 

Endothelial Dysfunction 

Endothelial dysfunction, or damage to the lining of the blood vessels, is another mechanism that has been proposed to explain the link between OSA and cardiovascular disease. OSA has been shown to impair endothelial function, which can lead to an increased risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. 

Heart Risks and Prevention in OSA Patients 

Studies have shown that individuals with OSA have a higher risk of developing CVD than those without the condition. OSA can contribute to the development of several CVD risk factors, such as hypertension, obesity, and insulin resistance, which can ultimately lead to heart disease. 

OSA has also been linked to the development of atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of plaque in the arteries that can lead to heart attacks and strokes. The hypoxia caused by OSA can increase the production of inflammatory molecules and oxidative stress, leading to the accumulation of plaque in the arterial walls. 

Furthermore, individuals with OSA are more likely to have abnormal lipid profiles, including high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides, and low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which can contribute to the development of CVD. 

Given the strong link between OSA and CVD, it is crucial to identify and treat OSA early to prevent the development of CVD and its associated complications. Treatment options for OSA include CPAP, oral appliances, and lifestyle modifications, which can improve OSA symptoms and reduce the risk of CVD.  

If you suspect you or your loved one may have OSA, do not ignore and act upon it. Timely identification of OSA is extremely important. Thus, be on top of it and early detect your heart problems with our Heart Health Monitoring Device SanketLife! 


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