High Blood Pressure. A number of studies have found a strong association between moderate-to-severe sleep apnea and high blood pressure (hypertension) even when obesity is not a factor. A weak, but still higher-than-normal, association with high blood pressure has also been observed in those who snore, wake frequently during the night, or have mild sleep apnea.
Coronary Artery Disease and Heart Attack. Sleep apnea has been associated with heart disease regardless of the presence of high blood pressure or other heart risk factors. Studies have shown that patients with moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea have a higher risk for a heart attack.
Stroke. There is some association between the presence of sleep apnea and risk of death in patients who have previously had a stroke.
Heart Failure. Up to a third of patients with heart failure also have sleep apnea. Both central and obstructive sleep apnea are linked with heart failure. Obstructive sleep apnea can make heart failure worse, and patients with apnea have a higher mortality rate than those who do not.
Atrial Fibrillation. Sleep apnea is more common in people with atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) than in patients with other heart conditions.
Other Adverse Effects on Health
Sleep apnea is associated with a higher incidence of many medical conditions, besides heart and circulation. The links between apneas and these conditions are unclear.
- Diabetes. Severe obstructive sleep apnea is associated with type 2 diabetes.
- Obesity. When it comes to sleep apnea and obesity, it is not always clear which condition is responsible for the other. For example, obesity is often a risk factor and possibly a cause of sleep apnea, but it is also likely that sleep apnea increases the risk for weight gain.
- Pulmonary hypertension.
- Asthma. Sleep apnea may worsen asthma symptoms and interfere with the effectiveness of asthma medications. Treating the apnea may help asthma control.
- Seizures, epilepsy, and other nerve disorders. There may be an association between seizures and obstructive sleep apnea, especially in older adults. Some studies have shown treatment of obstructive sleep apnea, when present, may help in the control of refractory seizures.
- Headaches. Sleep disorders, including apnea, may be the underlying causes of some chronic headaches. In some patients with both chronic headaches and apnea, treating the sleep disorder may cure the headache.
- High-risk pregnancies. Sleep apnea may increase the risk of pregnancy complications, including gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Eye disorders, including glaucoma, floppy eyelid syndrome, optic neuropathy conjunctivitis, dry eye, and various other infections and irritations. Some of these latter symptoms may be associated with CPAP treatment.
Review Date: 06/11/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.