The Link Between Sleep Apnea And Arthritis

Sleep disorders are sometimes rooted in physical ailments and medical conditions. We now know that obesity, heart disease, diabetes, sinus congestion, and allergies can increase the chances of developing disorders like sleep apnea, which causes multiple breathing interruptions while a person sleeps.

Although sleep apnea is considered a sleep disorder, its effects extend well beyond sleep. The negative impact of repeated breathing interruptions can lead to serious health problems, including high blood pressure, stroke, a higher risk of heart disease, and impaired liver function. 

It is believed that this happens because untreated sleep apnea and the subsequent oxygen deprivation makes the body more vulnerable to inflammation, blood clotting, and abnormalities in the lining of the blood vessels.

Sleep apnea and arthritis

Sleep apnea can cause illness, and certain illnesses can increase the risk of developing sleep apnea. For example, researchers have documented the connection between sleep apnea and rheumatoid arthritis (abbreviated to RA). 

In particular, obstructive sleep apnea (often abbreviated to OSA) seems to co-occur often in people who suffer from this inflammatory condition. 

Medical researchers have identified some issues that are common to both conditions, such as a weakened immune system and joint abnormalities. According to the British Medical Journal, RA and OSA patients have the following things in common:

  • Small jaw size and jaw disorders like TMJ, which affect the normal functioning of the upper airways.
  • Misaligned vertebrae in the neck area, which puts pressure in the airways.
  • Impaired function of the voice box joints.

Moreover, when the immune system becomes compromised, it may start producing abnormally high levels of inflammatory substances, like cytokines and interleukins. As you may know, inflammation is one of the key markers of RA. But abnormal inflammatory response is also common in severe OSA cases. 

Daytime fatigue is also present in both disorders. The frequent breathing interruptions and multiple awakenings through the night leave many OSA patients with low energy level and daytime sleepiness. People who struggle with the effects of RA also experience these symptoms.

Because arthritis and obstructive sleep apnea are so closely linked, treating one condition can help alleviate the symptoms of the other. But before that happens, it’s essential to have a professional diagnosis. This is especially important if you suspect you may have OSA, since millions of OSA cases go undiagnosed. People who suffer from sleep apnea often don’t remember the multiple sleep interruptions and aren’t aware of their loud snoring unless their partner mentions it. 

Learn if you have sleep apnea

If this is your case, booking an appointment with your doctor should be the first step. They can then refer you to a sleep specialist, who will do a sleep study to confirm or rule out the diagnosis. And even if you’re diagnosed with sleep apnea, you can rest assured that help is available. Treatment often includes using a continuous positive air pressure machine (CPAP) at night, which will regulate the way your airways function while you are asleep. 

A sleep specialist can also give you advice on other ways to manage sleep apnea symptoms, such as weight management, adjusting your sleep position, or using special devices that keep your jaw in place so the airways don’t collapse and interrupt normal breathing. In mild sleep apnea cases, this may be all is needed to improve the quality of your sleep. On the other hand, if you’re diagnosed with OSA due to abnormalities in jaw size or misaligned vertebrae, surgery might be the most effective treatment option. 

The key message to remember is that your health is way too important to ignore the symptoms of serious conditions like arthritis and OSA. Don’t let poor quality sleep and daytime fatigue interfere with your life and your ability to enjoy it to the fullest. 

At SleepQuest we can help you get an accurate diagnosis and outline a treatment plan that will reduce the impact and symptoms of OSA on your everyday life.