According to new research, sleep apnea can increase heart risks for people who have pacemakers. The new research, which is preliminary, shows that people with sleep apnea are three times more likely to develop atrial fibrillation. People with no previous history of this type of irregular heartbeat have a sixfold increased risk of developing them if they have sleep apnea.

This is the latest study to indicate that sleep apnea can contribute to ongoing heart risks, and needs to be treated in patients with heart disease to avoid a worsening of the condition.

Built in Sleep Apnea Monitors

To a certain extent, this study was only possible because we already recognized the potential for increased risk among people with sleep apnea who had pacemakers. New pacemakers have been equipped with tools that allow researchers to monitor sleep apnea. They’re like built-in sleep tests that measure multiple aspects of a person’s cardiovascular system while sleeping.

In the study, 150 people were checked for sleep apnea after receiving their pacemakers. They were then monitored for 8 months following the installation of pacemakers.

Researchers detected severe sleep apnea in 85 patients. Over the 8 month monitoring period, 36% of patients (54 patients), developed atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm in which the upper parts of your heart (the atria) pump quickly and inefficiently, allowing blood to pool in the heart.

Pacemakers are most often used to stimulate a heart that’s pumping too slow. It’s harder for a pacemaker to slow down a heart that’s in atrial fibrillation. Medications can be given to try to help the pacemaker slow down and regulate the heart of a person who’s in atrial fibrillation.

It’s important to note that these results are preliminary because they were presented at a scholarly conference. Peer review will further refine the study and confirm its results.

Sleep Apnea Drives Your Heart from Bad to Worse

Ideally, we should detect sleep apnea before you develop heart problems. However, if you develop heart problems, it’s vital that you get tested for sleep apnea. Basic screening should be performed at the hospital, but it’s important to get a full-scale sleep test to determine whether you have sleep apnea.

If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, treatment is crucial. Although CPAP is the frontline treatment of choice, if it does not work for you or you can’t adapt to it, oral appliance therapy can help.

To learn more about the importance of sleep apnea treatment if you have heart problems, please call (402) 493-4175 for an appointment with Omaha sleep dentist Dr. Roger Roubal at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.