Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder where breathing temporarily stops during sleep, leading to fragmented sleep and a decrease in the amount of oxygen in the blood.
Sleep apnea affects millions of people worldwide, and it is associated with various health complications, including high blood pressure.
In this research review, we’ll discuss the relationship between sleep apnea and high blood pressure and the mechanisms behind this relationship.
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where breathing temporarily stops during sleep.
There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and complex sleep apnea syndrome.
Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type, where the airway becomes partially or completely blocked during sleep, leading to a decrease in oxygen levels in the blood.
How does sleep apnea cause high blood pressure?
Sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure through various mechanisms, including:
- Increased sympathetic nervous system activity
Sleep apnea can activate the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates various bodily functions, including blood pressure.
Increased sympathetic activity can cause blood vessels to constrict, increasing blood pressure.
- Decreased oxygen levels
Sleep apnea can cause a decrease in the amount of oxygen in the blood, which can increase blood pressure.
Low oxygen levels can activate the sympathetic nervous system, causing blood vessels to constrict and increasing blood pressure.
Sleep apnea can cause chronic low-grade inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation can damage blood vessels, making them less elastic and more prone to narrowing, which can lead to high blood pressure.
- Endothelial dysfunction
Endothelial dysfunction is a condition where the lining of blood vessels becomes damaged, making it harder for blood to flow through the body.
Sleep apnea can cause endothelial dysfunction, leading to high blood pressure.
- Hormonal changes
Sleep apnea can cause hormonal changes that can increase blood pressure. For example, sleep apnea can increase the production of angiotensin, a hormone that constricts blood vessels and increases blood pressure.
What are the health consequences of sleep apnea-related high blood pressure?
Sleep apnea-related high blood pressure can have various health consequences, including:
- Heart disease
High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for developing heart disease, including heart attacks and heart failure.
When blood pressure is consistently high, it can damage blood vessels, making them more prone to narrowing and increasing the risk of heart disease.
High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for developing stroke, a condition where blood flow to the brain is interrupted. High blood pressure can damage blood vessels in the brain, increasing the risk of stroke.
- Kidney disease
High blood pressure can cause kidney damage and lead to chronic kidney disease. Kidney disease can cause further increases in blood pressure, creating a vicious cycle.
- Vision loss
High blood pressure can damage blood vessels in the eyes, leading to vision loss.
- Sexual dysfunction
High blood pressure can cause sexual dysfunction in both men and women.
There is significant research evidence supporting the relationship between sleep apnea and high blood pressure.
For example, a meta-analysis of 29 studies involving over 16,000 participants found that people with sleep apnea were more than twice as likely to develop hypertension compared to those without sleep apnea.
Another study involving over 6,000 participants found that those with severe sleep apnea were almost three times more likely to have high blood pressure compared to those without sleep apnea.
Research has also found that treatment of sleep apnea can reduce blood pressure.
A clinical trial involving over 700 participants found that treatment with CPAP therapy resulted in significant reductions in blood pressure compared to a control group.
Another study found that treatment of sleep apnea with CPAP therapy led to significant improvements in endothelial function, which can improve blood flow and reduce the risk of high blood pressure.
In addition to CPAP therapy, lifestyle changes such as weight loss and avoiding alcohol and sedatives before bedtime can also reduce the risk of sleep apnea-related high blood pressure.
A study involving overweight and obese participants with sleep apnea found that weight loss resulted in significant reductions in blood pressure.
Another study found that avoiding alcohol and sedatives before bedtime can significantly improve sleep apnea symptoms and reduce blood pressure.
Overall, the research evidence supports the relationship between sleep apnea and high blood pressure, as well as the effectiveness of CPAP therapy and lifestyle changes in reducing the risk of sleep, apnea-related high blood pressure.
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