Are you aware of the connection between sleep apnea and heart disease? While snoring can become a nuisance, when a snorer repeatedly stops breathing for brief periods of time, it can lead to cardiovascular problems. Ultimately, sleep apnea can be potentially life-threatening. And if you pair that with smoking, it’s a triple threat to patients’ health.

What is the Connection?

The connection between sleep apnea and heart disease continues to evolve rapidly. With more and more research advancing this area, we need to remain up to date with information. People who suffer from cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke, have a high prevalence of sleep apnea.

However, whether sleep apnea actually causes heart disease is still unclear. But we do know that if a patient currently has sleep apnea, their chance of developing hypertension in the future increases drastically—something we can prevent with proper treatment.

If people with high blood pressure and sleep apnea, or heart failure and sleep apnea, are properly treated, the measures of blood pressure or heart failure are significantly improved. With advanced research, there is good evidence that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between heart disease and sleep apnea.

A Smoking Link

As we already know, smoking causes lung cancer, which is proof enough that quitting is vital to maintaining a person’s health. However, there is a deadly combination between sleep apnea and smoking. Sleep apnea has a long list of risk factors, including obesity, large neck circumference, and having a narrow throat or enlarged tonsils.

If a patient currently smokes, he or she can significantly increase their risk of sleep apnea. In fact, it has been shown by the Mayo Clinic that smoking might even triple the risk of developing sleep apnea. That is proof in itself that patients should quit smoking now.

When a person smokes, they are narrowing the airway, which can increase the risk of sleep apnea. This is also the reason why seemingly unrelated physical features such as enlarged tonsils or adenoids are also a risk factor of sleep apnea. Cigarette smoking is a risk factor to sleep apnea because, over time, smoking can cause the airway to become narrower, which can lead to an increased risk of airway obstruction while sleeping.

The narrowing of the airway occurs because cigarette smoke is an irritant, and smoking can cause the upper airway to become inflamed. Additionally, the irritation from smoking can lead to increased fluid retention in the area. Inflammation and retained fluid combine to narrow the airway, which increases the likelihood of snoring and other sleeping problems.

Mayoor Patel, DDS, MS

Mayoor Patel, DDS, MS

How Does Oral Appliance Therapy Help?

It has been shown that when patients with sleep apnea are treated with oral appliance therapy, their blood pressure is not only lower at night, but it is also lower during the day. Knowing this is often enough for patients to seek treatment for sleep apnea immediately.

Additionally, people with atrial fibrillation who also suffer from sleep apnea can experience significant improvement in their condition when appropriate treatment is completed. However, if sleep apnea is not treated, a recurrence of atrial fibrillation goes up to approximately 80%.

So, what is the message? The message is that with treatment of sleep apnea, the chances of improvement of other conditions considerably improve. Remember that with treatment, you can further protect your patients and their future.

Mayoor Patel, DDS, MS, is the owner of Atlanta’s Craniofacial Pain and Dental Sleep Center of Georgia.