Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, affects an estimated 6 million Americans. It is an arrhythmia characterized by an irregular heartbeat that can lead to stroke and other heart-related complications.
Although atrial fibrillation can have a range of causes, research reveals a strong link between AFib and Obstructive Sleep Apnea, or OSA.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea affects about 18 million U.S. citizens and 100 million people worldwide. Eighty-five percent of cases go undiagnosed.
Sleep Apnea is a sleep-related disease that causes people to stop breathing for extended periods when they’re sleeping. Sleep Apnea is usually diagnosed by monitoring a patient during a sleep study. These pauses in breathing can sometimes last up to 30 seconds and can potentially occur multiple times a night, with frequencies ranging from 15 to even, 50 times a night, sometimes even more. Over time, untreated sleep apnea can lead to the onset of risk factors such as hypertension and diabetes that predispose a person to AFib. It has also been shown that sleep apnea can directly trigger arrhythmias during sleep. The heart experiences mechanical stresses and chemical changes each time a person with sleep apnea is awoken by lack of oxygen, and that experience may contribute to the development of AFib.
Sleep Apnea and AFib
Studies have shown an association between sleep apnea and AFib, as patients that are diagnosed with sleep apnea are 2-4 times more likely to have atrial fibrillation. If you've been diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation, I recommend undergoing screening for sleep apnea as it is crucial to diagnose especially for patients with Atrial Fibrillation.
Does Treating Sleep Apnea Help AFib?
Treating sleep apnea does help manage AFib. Studies have shown that treating sleep apnea through a CPAP oxygen mask can help control a patient’s breathing and significantly improves their afib by 42%, thereby reducing afib symptoms. Furthermore, treating AFib with a CPAP leads to higher success with procedures such as cardioversions, ablations.
The treatment of sleep apnea typically involves wearing a CPAP oxygen mask at night to help maintain a person’s breathing throughout the night. I have had many patients describe to me that it can be uncomfortable or even have a claustrophobic feeling wearing these maks. Some patients get used to the mask, but some do not. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of sizes as well as full masks and nasal only masks. As always, please discuss with your doctor which option may be right for you. In addition, weight loss may also help treat sleep apnea as well, as there is a strong link between obesity and sleep apnea.
If you have sleep apnea, please be compliant with your CPAP schedule if possible. If you have not been screened for sleep apnea, please discuss with your doctor screening with a sleep study. Properly treated sleep apnea can help treat a patient’s AFib but also a wide variety of other health conditions including high blood pressure.
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