The Link Between Pulmonary Hypertension and Sleep Apnea

It is currently thought that approximately one billion people experience obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) on a regular basis. However, we should note that real statistics may actually be much higher due to the fact that mild cases are not often reported (or even recognized). 

Anyone who has been diagnosed with this condition is likely aware of the most common symptoms. Broken sleep, excessive snoring, and daytime lethargy are normally present to one degree or another. Although these can undoubtedly impact our quality of life, other issues could pose more serious health risks.

Did you know that there is a relationship between obstructive sleep apnea and high blood pressure (hypertension)? Pulmonary hypertension is a particular issue, resulting in potentially grave consequences if left untreated.

Let's delve into the finer points to better appreciate your treatment options, and to learn why adopting a proactive approach is always the best way forward. 

How Does Sleep Apnea Impact the Body?

Obstructive sleep apnea is a rather challenging condition, as its symptoms vary. Some individuals may experience more profound effects than others, and yet, each scenario should be addressed by a healthcare professional. Here are some of the ways in which OSA can degrade your overall health:

  • Pronounced tiredness throughout the day may contribute to weight gain.
  • A relationship has been established between OSA and adult-onset diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.
  • Mental effects may include anxiety and depression, and even dementia.
  • Sleep apnea makes it more likely that you will experience headaches and generalized muscular tension.

You might already be aware of these scenarios if you have been grappling with the ongoing symptoms of OSA for some time. Still, pulmonary hypertension is a lesser-known side effect that should never be overlooked. 

Looking at the Pulmonary Hypertension Sleep Apnea Relationship

Pulmonary hypertension (abbreviated as PH in medical circles) occurs when the blood vessels found in the lungs become constricted. This makes it much more difficult for the heart to pump oxygen to and from the respiratory system. 

Research suggests that approximately one percent of the population suffers from pulmonary hypertension. However, individuals who have already been diagnosed with OSA may be at an increased risk. Why is this the case?

Experts have known for some time that sleep apnea and high blood pressure are related to one another. Consider these findings:

  • 50 percent of individuals diagnosed with OSA are dealing with high blood pressure.
  • 30 percent of those diagnosed with high blood pressure also exhibit the symptoms of sleep apnea.

It is now clear that each scenario can affect and/or exacerbate how the other presents itself in clinical settings. 

The same holds true when discussing pulmonary hypertension. If we think about it for a moment, this makes a great deal of sense. The cardiovascular and respiratory systems are highly dependent upon one another. 

This is why between 17 and 53 percent of individuals diagnosed with OSA also exhibit the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension. 

Conditions Related to OSA That Could Lead to Pulmonary Hypertension

Another confounding factor involves how obstructive sleep apnea can exacerbate other conditions that may negatively affect the cardiovascular system. Here are some additional risks that can be linked to OSA:

  • Chronic inflammation
  • Disruptions in various important metabolic activities, like glucose metabolism 
  • The increase production of a stress-related hormone known as cortisol

While these might not directly cause pulmonary hypertension, there is little doubt that they can represent significant risk factors. 

Your Treatment Options

Although the scenarios above are all quite serious in nature, there are plenty of ways to reduce the risk of suffering from pulmonary hypertension. Let's see what steps can be taken. 

Lifestyle Changes

It is crucial to adopt a healthier lifestyle as soon as you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea. Not only does this involve addressing the condition itself, but it is associated with other recommendations including:

  • Modifying your diet and reducing your overall caloric intake
  • Obtaining an adequate amount of exercise
  • Lowering your body mass index (BMI)
  • Abstaining from alcohol
  • Quitting cigarettes

These are all equally common-sense measures for anyone who is concerned about their overall health. 

The Use of a PAP Device

Using a positive airway pressure (PAP) device while asleep is an extremely effective way to mitigate the ongoing symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea. A study published by the National Library of Medicine also showed that there is a clear link between regular PAP use and lower blood pressure levels. 

Thankfully, there are many types of PAPs to select. It is therefore possible to choose a customised option based on the symptoms that you are exhibiting. Most users report extremely positive results, and these benefits will undoubtedly carry over into other areas of their lives. 

Reversing the Effects of Pulmonary Hypertension 

Much like sleep apnea, it is not currently possible to "cure" pulmonary hypertension. The intention is to minimize the symptoms over time. 

Those who tackle their OSA should therefore be able to better manage their pulmonary hypertension. Once again, it is critical to mention that proactive lifestyle modifications can likewise have a profound impact upon long-term prognoses. 

Obstructive sleep apnea can be a challenging condition to moderate without professional assistance. If you are already prone to high blood pressure, and assuming that you have been diagnosed with OSA, make it a point to speak with your primary care physician. He or she will be able to provide targeted advice.