Studies Link Snoring to Heart Disease and Stroke

Many snorers have obstructive sleep apnea, which has been linked with high blood pressure, or hypertension, which, in turn, is associated with heart disease and stroke.

The above headline is a great example of why skeptics dismiss medical stories in the popular press as hype and scaremongering. Yet the relationship between snoring and heart disease (and stroke) is quite real, although it’s less direct than the headline indicates.

The fact is that many people who snore have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a disorder in which breathing is interrupted briefly but repeatedly during sleep. OSA has been linked to high blood pressure, or hypertension, which, in turn, is associated with heart disease and stroke.

What’s the connection between sleep apnea and high blood pressure?

When breathing is interrupted, the oxygen level in the body falls. In response, the brain sends signals that cause blood vessels to increase the flow of oxygen to the heart and the brain. Increased flow in the blood vessels is high blood pressure. Even when a person with sleep apnea breathes normally during waking hours, high blood pressure persists, and that’s a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

High blood pressure is the most common risk factor for stroke. When blood pressure goes up, blood clots more easily. The blood clots in the brain cause a stroke.

There is hope!

The good news is that obstructive sleep apnea can be treated. When a patient is diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea and uses a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to keep air flowing during sleep, the risk of hypertension is reduced, not only when asleep but also during waking hours.

There are many contributing factors to stroke and heart attack. Some of these factors are not changeable, but factors such as high blood pressure and sleep apnea are treatable and should be treated aggressively.

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