Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) refers to a type of arrhythmia, which is an irregular heartbeat. It can cause blood to pool and move slowly, which can result in severe complications. Sleep apnea may cause A-fib.
This article discusses sleep apnea, A-fib, and the links between the two. It also explores treatment and prevention for both conditions.
People with sleep apnea
People with sleep apnea are at higher risk of various conditions,
- Obstructive sleep apnea: This is the most common type of sleep apnea, which affects more than 20% of adults worldwide. In this type of sleep apnea, a person’s upper airway is blocked many times throughout their sleep, which reduces airflow, or stops it completely. This can happen when the airways become narrow, which may be the result of various conditions, such as changes in hormone levels, obesity, or large tonsils.
- Central sleep apnea: This occurs when a person’s brain does not send signals to the body to breathe. Conditions that affect a person’s brain may cause this type of sleep apnea.
A person may not be aware they have sleep apnea. Often a partner alerts an individual to their symptoms. These may
- loud, frequent snoring
- stopping and starting breathing during sleep
- gasping for air in sleep
A person with sleep apnea may notice symptoms such as:
- a decrease in libido and sexual function
- sleepiness in the daytime
- dry mouth
- frequently waking in the night to urinate
People with A-fib
This can result in uncoordinated blood flow, which may cause blood to pool. The irregular rhythm can lead to serious complications, such as heart failure and stroke.
People with A-fib do not always experience symptoms. When they do, symptoms may
Research has found that the links between A-fib and sleep apnea are complex and likely bidirectional, which means each may contribute to the other. Both A-fib and sleep apnea are also risk factors for stroke.
Researchers have found it
Researchers suggest that a rise in A-fib and sleep apnea cases may be due to increases in obesity and cardiovascular disease. While A-fib is likely to contribute to the development of sleep apnea and vice versa, their close associations with other conditions like obesity make it difficult for researchers to confirm a causal link.
Animal studies have found potential direct links between A-fib and sleep apnea. These studies have shown that low oxygen levels and high carbon dioxide levels associated with sleep apnea can cause imbalances in the autonomic nervous system. This may play a role in changing electrical signals in the atria, which can lead to A-fib.
Research has also found that sleep apnea can cause changes in heart function and structure, as the repetitive closing of airways can cause stress on the atria, which may result in A-fib.
Doctors treat sleep apnea and A-fib separately. There are several treatment options for both conditions.
Treatment for A-fib
Medications for A-fib
- beta-blockers, such as bisoprolol and atenolol
- calcium channel blockers, such as verapamil and diltiazem
- sodium and potassium channel blockers
- anticoagulant medication, such as warfarin
Treatment for sleep apnea
- Breathing devices: These include continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines and auto-adjusting positive airway pressure (APAP) machines.
- Oral devices: A person wears these in their mouth during sleep. Examples include tongue-retaining devices and mandibular repositioning mouthpieces.
- Surgery: Different procedures include:
- surgery to implant devices to monitor and manage breathing patterns
- adenotonsillectomy, to remove adenoids and tonsils
- surgical removal of soft tissue from the throat and mouth
- maxillary or jaw advancement surgery to move the upper and lower jaws forward to increase the size of the airway
Sleep apnea may cause A-fib, although the relationship between the two conditions is complex and likely bidirectional. Additional conditions such as obesity may also play a role in their development.
Some research suggests that sleep apnea may cause changes to the function and structure of the heart, which can result in A-fib. Other research suggests the presence of other heart-related conditions may play a key role in the coexistence of sleep apnea and A-fib.
A person may be able to help prevent A-fib and sleep apnea by making healthy lifestyle changes, such as following a healthy diet and stopping smoking, if necessary.
People should speak with a doctor if they are experiencing symptoms of A-fib or sleep apnea.