Here's how untreated OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea) can lead to heart attacks, tips to prevent it

ByZarafshan Shiraz, Delhi
Oct 01, 2022 04:13 PM IST

As in the cases of Star Wars actor Carrie Fisher or Bollywood singer and music composer Bappi Lahiri, sleep apnea can be deadly. Obstructive Sleep Apnea is increasing the risk of heart failure. Doctors reveal how untreated OSA can lead to heart attacks and share tips to prevent it

Obstructive Sleep Apnea is very common in obese people with short necks, which calls for asleep study or polysomnography to diagnose if there is loud snoring and other OSA-related symptoms. Obstructive Sleep Apnea is a condition in which free passage of the breath is obstructed due to the deposition of fat in the upper respiratory tract, usually the pallet or the airway from the nose to the throat.

Here's how untreated OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea) can lead to heart attacks, tips to prevent it(Andrea Piacquadio)
Here's how untreated OSA (Obstructive Sleep Apnea) can lead to heart attacks, tips to prevent it(Andrea Piacquadio)

However, 20% of OSA patients may not be obese but sleep apnea is diagnosed when one stops breathing for 10 seconds or longer, at least five times per hour during sleep, also called apnea hypopnea index (AHI). An AHI of five or more is considered substantial and OSA-suggestive.

How untreated OSA can lead to heart attacks:

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Kumar Rajeev, DNB (Cardiology), Interventional Cardiologist at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital in Navi Mumbai, explained, “The presence of moderate to severe OSA increases the risk of resistant hypertension, heart failure, coronary heart disease, and stroke. They are highly susceptible to developing an erratic heartbeat (atrial fibrillation) and abrupt cardiac death. OSA is present in about 30% of hypertensive individuals and 80% of those with resistant hypertension.”

Dr Shantesh Kaushik, Consultant, Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery at Apollo Hospitals in Navi Mumbai, elaborated, “Our heart gets rest only during the REM component of sleep which is called the Rapid Eye Moment component of sleep most human beings have 2 to 3 REM cycles this is the only time during which our blood pressure falls to the lowest level this is called the nocturnal dip in blood pressure during this dip the heart and the vascular system gets relative rest as throughout the day it is working round the clock.”


According to Dr Kumar Rajeev, treatment of OSA requires weight reduction, regular exercise, stoppage of alcohol and smoking, avoidance of sedative pills and use of positive airway pressure with a face mask and CPAP machine. He suggested, “This CPAP should be used while you sleep to maintain your upper airway open and provide a comfortable night's rest. For OSA, certain people might need different surgical treatments. To assess the severity of their cardiac condition, patients need several additional tests, including an ECG, an echocardiogram, a stress test, a Holter monitor test, a coronary angiography, a pulmonary function test, and a blood test. Getting a full 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep every night is essential for good health.”

He highlighted, “It is unfortunate that, despite having a wide range of diagnostic tools at our disposal, the majority of the time OSA goes undiagnosed and untreated. It is estimated that more than 80% of individuals with moderate to severe OSA are undiagnosed. Therefore, it is crucial to educate oneself about OSA and raise awareness about it, since, the correct diagnosis and treatment of OSA will improve the quality of a person's life and considerably lowers the risk of hypertension and numerous heart diseases.”

Bringing his expertise to the same, Dr Shantesh Kaushik echoed, “To prevent this what you need is first weight control avoid excessive weight gain and avoid metabolic syndrome diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity these three diseases go hand in hand with obstructive sleep apnea has to be treated by using continuous airway flow methods so you can use BiPAP or a CPAP machine which can deliver a continuous flow of air which will thus prevent the tongue from falling back and obstructing the upper airway during sleep this will prevent the damaging effects of the Obstructive Sleep Apnea.”

He added, “Unfortunately, Obstructive Sleep Apnea is not well known in the general population and hopefully, those people who are not having good sleep, people on the obese side, and those who have hypertension and diabetes, should get investigated for Obstructive Sleep Apnea and use a machine to improve the breathing at night will relive you of these additional diseases.”

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