Understanding the Link and Managing the Conditions
Sleep apnea and Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) are two common medical conditions that can significantly impact a person’s health and well-being. While they may seem unrelated at first glance, studies have shown a strong link between the two conditions.
At the Center for Dental Sleep Health, Dr. Stephen Ura understands there are a lot of medical conditions that connect to sleep apnea. In this guide, we’ll dive into the connection between sleep apnea and AFib and provides tips for getting the right treatment for your health.
What Is AFib?
AFib is a heart rhythm disorder where the heart beats irregularly and too fast, leading to palpitations, shortness of breath, and chest discomfort. It affects between 2.7 to 6.1 million Americans and becomes more common as people age.
Symptoms of AFib
Symptoms of AFib can vary from person to person. Some people may not experience symptoms, while others may have significant symptoms that affect their daily life. Common signs of AFib include:
- Heart palpitations or a racing heartbeat
- Irregular heartbeat
- Fatigue or weakness
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Fainting or near-fainting
- Anxiety or a feeling of impending doom
It’s important to note that not all people with AFib will experience these symptoms. Some people may only discover they have AFib during routine medical exams or evaluations for other health conditions. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider for proper evaluation and treatment.
Risks Factors of AFib
Several risk factors can increase a person’s likelihood of developing AFib. Some factors are beyond your control, while others can be modified with lifestyle changes or medical intervention. Here are some common risk factors for AFib:
- Age: The risk of AFib increases with age, particularly in people over the age of 60.
- High Blood Pressure: Hypertension is a major risk factor for AFib, as it can damage the heart and increase the risk of developing arrhythmias.
- Heart Disease: People with a history of heart diseases, such as coronary artery disease or heart failure, are at higher risk for developing AFib.
- Thyroid Problems: Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, are known risk factors for AFib. The thyroid hormone plays a key role in regulating the heart’s rhythm, and any disruption in its function can increase the risk of developing arrhythmias.
- Diabetes: Diabetes is a chronic condition that can lead to damage to the heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of AFib.
- Obesity: Being overweight or obese can strain the heart and increase the risk of developing AFib.
- Family History: If you have a family history of AFib, the risk of developing the condition may be higher.
- Alcohol Consumption: Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can trigger AFib episodes in some people.
- Sleep Apnea: There’s a strong link between sleep apnea and AFib, as sleep apnea can cause changes in oxygen levels and increase the risk of arrhythmias.
Having one or more of these risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop AFib, but it’s important to be aware of them and take steps to manage them when possible. Making lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight, managing blood pressure and diabetes, and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption can help reduce the risk of developing AFib.
The Link Between Sleep Apnea and AFib
Up to 50 percent of people with AFib also have sleep apnea. The mechanisms behind this relationship are complex, but it’s thought that the stress on the heart and the disruption of the autonomic nervous system play a role.
When a person with sleep apnea experiences a pause in breathing, the body is deprived of oxygen, leading to an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. This puts stress on the heart and can contribute to the development of AFib. On the other hand, people with AFib may have irregular heartbeats that can disrupt sleep and lead to the development of sleep apnea.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosing sleep apnea usually involves a sleep study, where a person is monitored while they sleep to measure their breathing patterns, oxygen levels, and brain activity. Treatment options for sleep apnea include continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, oral appliances, and surgery.
CPAP therapy is the most common treatment for sleep apnea. It involves wearing a mask over the nose and/or mouth during sleep, which delivers a continuous stream of air to keep the airway open. Oral appliances are custom-made devices that fit in the mouth to help keep the airway open. Surgery is usually reserved for severe cases of sleep apnea that don’t respond to other treatments.
Diagnosing AFib usually involves an electrocardiogram (ECG) to measure the heart’s electrical activity. Treatment options for AFib include:
- Medications such as beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and anticoagulants can help control the heart rate and rhythm and prevent blood clots.
- Cardioversion is a procedure where an electric shock is used to restore a normal heart rhythm.
- Ablation is a procedure where a small part of the heart tissue that causes an irregular heartbeat is destroyed.
- Surgery is usually only recommended in severe cases.
If you’re undergoing an ablation treatment, we can use a CPAP in conjunction. Ask your physician if you can have a sleep apnea treatment in conjunction with your AFib treatment.
Managing Sleep Apnea and AFib
While treatment options for sleep apnea and AFib are available, there are also lifestyle changes that can help manage and prevent their complications. For sleep apnea, our Nashua sleep dentist recommends maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding alcohol and sedatives before bed, and sleeping on your side can help reduce symptoms. Quitting smoking and treating underlying medical conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes can also be beneficial.
To help reduce the risks of complications for AFib, we recommend the lifestyle changes such as:
- Reducing alcohol consumption
- Quitting smoking
- Maintaining a healthy weight
Stress management techniques such as yoga and meditation can also be helpful, as stress can trigger AFib episodes. It’s important to work with a healthcare provider and sleep dentist to develop an individualized plan for managing sleep apnea and AFib.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the long-term effects of untreated sleep apnea?
Untreated sleep apnea can lead to serious health complications such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It can also contribute to depression, anxiety, and poor quality of life.
Can AFib be caused by stress?
Yes, stress can trigger AFib episodes in some people. Stress management techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises can help manage AFib.
Is AFib a life-threatening condition?
While AFib itself isn’t usually life-threatening, it can lead to serious health complications such as stroke and heart failure if left untreated. It’s important to work with a healthcare provider to manage and treat AFib appropriately.
Protect Your Health with Personalized Sleep Apnea and AFib Treatment
Sleep apnea and AFib are two common medical conditions that have a strong link between the two conditions. By working with a healthcare provider and making healthy choices, people with sleep apnea and AFib can live healthier and more fulfilling life.
Contact our Nashua, NH, office today at (603) 236-1124. Dr. Ura and our team proudly provide sleep apnea treatment services to the Nashua community and surrounding areas such as Hudson, Merrimack, and Milford, NH. You can also fill out our online contact form to book your appointment, and one of our team members will get back to you promptly.