Sleep Apnea: How Does it Affect the Heart?

Patient

Q: How does sleep apnea effect the human body and direct correlation with diabetes and heart problems?

Doctor

A:   I will start with Diabetes. Diabetes per se, is not a risk factor of sleep apnea. However, if a diabetic patient is obese or overweight, sleep apnea may develop. Obesity, in fact, is a risk factor for sleep apnea. When a person gains too much weight, there is always the chance of developing obstructed upper airways. When an overweight or obese person is upright, the airways are also upright so there are usually no breathing problems. When asleep, the upper airways (nares and throat) falls back and obstructs breathing. Apnea is defined as periodic (20-30secs) cessation of breathing. As you know, a person normally breathes in oxygen and breathes out carbon dioxide. Once oxygen gets into the lungs, it will be delivered to the blood then the blood circulates to the heart then it pumps blood to all parts of the body. The heart muscle itself needs blood supply to pump effectively.  In obstructive sleep apnea, since there is periodic obstruction in breathing during sleep, oxygen delivery to the blood is decreased and carbon dioxide is retained (which should have been expired or expelled from the body in normal breathing). This decrease in oxygen will ultimately overwhelm the heart since its own oxygen supply is compromised and at the same time it will try to pump more blood with low oxygen content to the entire body. This will eventually overwhelm the heart and may cause it to enlarge. Other individuals with abnormal upper airways, though not overweight or obese, may also have sleep apnea. I do hope I have enlightened you somehow. Take care always.

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