Anyone with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is likely aware of the role that a positive airway pressure (PAP) device will play.
However, did you know that this therapy may be able to help avoid more serious and even life-threatening conditions associated with the heart?
Before examining why regularly using a PAP device might promote cardiovascular health, let's briefly discuss how this device functions -- as well as its advantages when treating sleep apnea.
What is the Purpose of a PAP Device?
Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition in which the body cannot get sufficient oxygen during the night. This occurs when the airway partially or fully collapses when you are sleeping – causing a barrier to oxygen flow to the lungs.
As a result, sufferers will often (and very briefly) wake up every night, on a frequent basis, as the body struggles to get oxygen. This prevents them from obtaining the rest that they require.
A typical PAP consists of a motor, a built-in heated humidifier, a flexible hose, and an adjustable face mask. The humidifier slightly warms the air as it is sent through the tube.
The motor sends pressurized humid air through the hose and into the mask. As a result, users will receive a steady source of oxygen, allowing them to remain asleep. The humidification prevents nasal resistance from occurring.
The good news is that PAP devices have become lighter, smaller, quieter and more ergonomically comfortable in recent times. This is why nearly 75 percent of those who have been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea report dramatic improvements in their sleeping patterns thanks to the PAP.
The Relationship Between Sleep Apnea and Cardiovascular Health
How might OSA impact the cardiovascular system? There are many sleep apnea heart effects that can be quite serious in nature. Scientists have identified two potential concerns:
- Low levels of oxygen in the bloodstream may eventually begin to damage the vessels that pump blood to the heart.
- When oxygen levels fall, the heart automatically begins to beat faster. This will cause an increase in blood pressure.
To put these observations another way, OSA deprives your body of oxygen, causing the heart to work harder than it would normally have to. If these cycles are allowed to continue over months or even years, the cardiovascular system may eventually become compromised.
Scientific research has revealed these observations. A recent study of individuals diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea found that 48 percent were experiencing some type of cardiac arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is associated with an irregular heartbeat and this symptom could be a precursor for more serious problems.
Other findings suggest that undiagnosed sleep apnea increases the risk of suffering from ischemic heart disease and in severe cases, heart failure.
How Can a CPAP Help?
To appreciate the effects of PAP therapy on heart health, we should break the possible advantages down into a handful of easily digestible observations.
The first involves an increased supply of oxygen to the bloodstream. Thanks to air that is provided at a higher pressure, your body will receive ample amounts to normalize your oxygen levels. Therefore, the heart muscle will not need to pump as hard and will work without abnormal stress put on it.
Another interesting observation is associated with the possible relationship between sleep apnea and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Some studies suggest that those who have been diagnosed with OSA are more likely to also suffer from atherosclerosis. However, this might also be due to other factors such as poor dietary habits or a lack of exercise.
It is also wise to point out that OSA has been linked to poor respiratory function. This will naturally place even more strain upon the heart. PAP therapy can help to improve the efficiency of the lungs and surrounding muscles, reducing the amount of effort required to breathe properly while asleep.
What about PAP therapy and heart failure? Studies indicate that regularly using this device provides several physical benefits to the cardiac muscles. These include reduced stress, increased cardiovascular output and decreased loads upon the ventricles (chambers within the heart).
While a PAP device might not prevent heart failure, it could very well represent a valuable treatment option.
A final effect involves overall health. Obtaining the recommended amount of sleep per night will provide you with plenty of energy throughout the day. You are also less likely to experience mental issues such as anxiety and nervousness (both contributing factors to heart problems).
Surprisingly Beneficial Side Effects
An overwhelming amount of evidence suggests that the use of a PAP device can provide numerous heart-friendly benefits.
This device is also able to reduce the number of cardiovascular-related deaths -- as well as emergency hospitalizations that might have otherwise been attributed to OSA.
Even More Heart Benefits
As mentioned, PAP therapy will help to guarantee that you will finally obtain the proper amount of sleep. You will therefore be less tired throughout the day.
In other words, patients are more likely to adopt other healthy lifestyle changes such as obtaining plenty of exercise, eating a healthy diet and managing their levels of mental stress.
It is a well-known fact that these variables are at least partially responsible for serious conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, heart disease, heart failure, and heart attacks.
A Step in the Right Direction
There is little doubt that using a PAP device will benefit OSA sufferers and the health of their cardiovascular system.
However, we need to remember that other habits can be just as potent. Eating the right healthy foods, losing weight, and getting regular exercise are three strategies to appreciate. As more research emerges, there is little doubt that additional benefits will be discovered.