Harvard Heart Letter

Sleep apnea solutions that lower cardiovascular risks

cpap sleep apnea solutions
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Devices to treat nighttime breathing problems may help lower blood pressure and reduce the harm to your heart.

Peaceful slumber is often a pipe dream for people with obstructive sleep apnea. More than 25 million Americans have this problem, in which the tongue or throat tissue temporarily blocks the airway during sleep. The resulting pauses in breathing (called apneas) lead to explosive snoring or gasping for breath—sometimes more than 30 times per hour.

These recurrent episodes often cause daytime sleepiness and raise the risk of cardiovascular problems. "The nightly stress of not breathing causes repeated surges in blood pressure, which damages the lining of the blood vessels and disrupts your insulin, glucose, and lipid levels," says Dr. Susan Redline, the Peter C. Farrell Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. These changes can lead to clogged arteries and poor heart muscle function. Sleep apnea has also been linked to the heart rhythm disorder known as atrial fibrillation.

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