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Heart Health

Have Heart Failure? Be Alert About Sleep Apnea

Is your snoring keeping your spouse awake? Or do you feel tired during the day despite a good night’s sleep? If so, you may have sleep apnea, a common medical condition in which your breathing temporarily stops or becomes shallow during sleep. Left untreated, sleep apnea can cause serious problems.

Understanding Sleep Apnea

When you have sleep apnea, your breathing pauses for more than 10 seconds at a time – more than 20 times an hour – while you sleep. When breathing is interrupted, the amount of oxygen in your blood drops. Once your brain notices the lack of oxygen, it interrupts your sleep so that you can start breathing again.

Diferent reasons can cause the pauses in your breathing. With obstructive sleep apnea, tissue at the back of your throat may block the opening of the airway during sleep. In people with central sleep apnea, the brain may fail to tell certain muscles to breathe.

Exploring the Heart Failure Link

About half of those with heart failure have either obstructive or central sleep apnea. Some have both types. It’s unclear whether one disease causes the other. But they do share a common risk factor: obesity.

Untreated sleep apnea can damage the heart and lungs and make heart failure worse. Lack of blood oxygen forces your heart to pump harder to get the oxygen it needs. Low blood oxygen levels also can trigger the release of troublesome stress hormones.

Preventing Complications

Talk with your physician about your risk for sleep apnea if you experience common symptoms, such as:

●● Snoring and choking during sleep

●● Sleepiness during the day

●● Morning headaches

●● Memory and concentration trouble

●● Depression

To diagnose sleep apnea, your physician is likely to review your medical history and look for tissue that is blocking your airway. You may have to take a sleep test so that your breathing can be monitored and analyzed.

Treatment is important. If you have both sleep apnea and heart failure, managing your heart failure may improve your sleep apnea. Your physician may suggest lifestyle changes, medications or a therapy called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to target the sleep apnea. Studies show that CPAP can improve how well the heart works and decrease blood pressure and heart rate during sleep.

Take the “Sleep: Test Your Knowledge Quiz.” Log in at hap.org and link to Healthy Living.

Then under Tools and Resources click on

Health Quizzes.

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