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What is the Connection Between Hypertension and Sleep Apnea?

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  • Written By: Henry Gaudet
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 31 March 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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The link between hypertension and sleep apnea is well established. Approximately half of all people with sleep apnea are expected to develop hypertension as well. In some cases, sleep apnea appears to be a direct cause of hypertension, but hypertension and sleep apnea share common risk factors and might develop independently.

Sleep apnea is a condition that inhibits breathing for brief periods during sleep and usually is characterized by loud snoring. Most often, this is because of an obstruction of the airway. During sleep, muscles relax, including the muscles supporting the throat. This allows the walls of the throat to sag and block off the airway. Typically, this loss of breath is followed by a loud snort as the patient struggles to restore breathing.

Disturbed sleep resulting from sleep apnea is responsible for a range of symptoms, including hypertension, or high blood pressure. With the air flow disrupted, the heart must work harder to keep providing the body with a steady supply of oxygen and clear away the buildup of carbon dioxide. Hypertension resulting from sleep apnea differs from other varieties of hypertension in that it does not ease during sleep.

Left untreated, hypertension and sleep apnea put the heart under a growing strain. Most people with high blood pressure experience no symptoms, allowing the condition to progress for years or even decades. Hypertension is dangerous, even life-threatening, because it significantly increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

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A number of risk factors might make an individual likely to develop sleep apnea. Physical impediments such as a narrow airway or large tonsils might make sleep apnea more likely. Sedatives and alcohol make episodes of sleep apnea more likely. Obesity is a risk factor for both hypertension and sleep apnea, placing both the heart and the airway under increased strain.

Weight reduction usually is recommended for treatment of hypertension and sleep apnea. Measures can be taken to prevent the patient from lying face up, which makes sleep apnea episodes more likely, and avoiding alcohol will help as well. Dental devices can be used to change the position of the jaw and help keep the airway open, and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines have been found to be especially effective. For many medical professionals, CPAP is the preferred treatment for sleep apnea.

Often, hypertension and sleep apnea go undiagnosed, but in cases where sleep apnea is successfully treated, a dramatic reduction in blood pressure takes place as well. Treatment of sleep apnea often will reduce snoring as well. This allows a better night’s sleep for the patient and for the patient’s sleeping partner.

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