What is the link between sleep apnea and heart disease?

I was recently diagnosed with sleep apnea and have heard that people with sleep apnea are more likely to have heart disease. I am overweight and the doctor told me that losing weight would help with my sleep apnea. Is it my weight that would increase my chances for heart disease, or the sleep apnea?

Doctors Answers (3)

J. Douglas Hudson, MD, DABSM
Answered on: 1/13/2014

Sleep apnea and heart disease have been linked for several years. Probably 75% of patients with significant heart disease (congestive heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms and heart attacks) suffer from sleep apnea. Being over weight aggravates many medical disorders, including high blood pressure, low back pain, diabetes and sleep apnea. Half the people with sleep apnea are of normal weight so being over weight is only a risk factor for sleep apnea. Maintaining a normal body weight will often help sleep apnea and many other medical conditions. Sleep apnea leads to high blood pressure which leads to heart disease which leads to strokes. Treating sleep apnea is important and easy.

Robert C. Jones, M.D.
Answered on: 12/30/2013

Simply put, weight gain causes the neck size to increase on the outside while it narrows the airway on the inside. This leads to the apneas which cause the blood pressure to go up and the blood oxygen to drop. Arousals will occur which may lead to daytime sleepiness. Due to all this distress at night, sleep apnea can lead to: Anxiety/Depression; Hypertension; Heart Failure; Heart Attacks; Stroke. Loosing weight may cure the sleep apnea and reduce the risk of heart disease. Get treated for the sleep apnea to immediately reduce the risks for a heart attack/stroke and when sufficient weight loss has been achieved, get rechecked to see if the apneas are gone!

Jeannine Louise Gingras, MD
Answered on: 12/27/2013