Chronic snoring affects as many as 90 million Americans. While the person snoring isn’t the one who will suffer immediately (just ask your partner if you’re a loud snorer!), regular snoring can potentially indicate other health concerns, some of which can be heart-related and severe.
In this article, leading sleep and breathing specialist Dr. Schalch Lepe takes an in-depth look at the link between chronic snoring and heart health. Read on to find out more about your condition, the potential risks associated with it, and what you can do to mitigate them.
Understanding the Connection Between Chronic Snoring and Heart Health
Snoring might seem like nothing more than a noisy frustration. However, chronic snoring could signal a more serious health issue—particularly sleep breathing disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)—that, if left untreated, has potential implications for heart health. Understanding this connection is the first step toward better health management.
Chronic snoring is often a key symptom of OSA, a condition characterized by repeated episodes of partial or complete blockage of the upper airway during sleep. These blockages can cause drops in blood oxygen levels and force the cardiovascular system to work harder, leading to higher blood pressure, a significant risk factor for heart disease.
Over time, the strain on the cardiovascular system can lead to various heart-related problems. Studies have shown a strong correlation between OSA and conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), heart arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), coronary artery disease, heart failure, and even stroke.
Repeated sleep disturbance episodes night after night can lead to sustained high blood pressure, even during the day, and can make the heart work harder, leading to enlargement of the heart’s left atrium or even heart failure in the long term. For this reason, if you or a loved one snores regularly, it’s highly recommended you talk to a sleep specialist.
What is Chronic Snoring? Causes and Symptoms
Chronic snoring simply means regular snoring, which often disrupts their own sleep and that of others.
Snoring happens when the flow of air through the mouth and nose is physically obstructed. This can occur for a variety of reasons, including:
- Physical attributes: Certain physical characteristics can contribute to snoring. For example, men tend to have narrower air passages than women and are more likely to snore. Similarly, bulky throat tissue or enlarged tonsils often cause snoring in children.
- Age: As we age, our throats become narrower, and the muscle tone in our throats decreases, increasing the likelihood of snoring.
- Nasal and sinus problems: Blocked airways or a stuffy nose can make inhalation difficult and create a vacuum in the throat, leading to snoring.
- Overweight and obesity: Fatty tissue and poor muscle tone, particularly around the neck, can contribute to snoring.
- Alcohol, smoking, and medications: Alcohol consumption, smoking, and certain medications can increase muscle relaxation leading to more snoring.
The most common symptoms of chronic snoring include loud snoring most nights, observed episodes of stopped breathing or gasping for air during sleep, excessive daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, and morning headaches.
The Link Between Chronic Snoring and Cardiovascular Disease
As mentioned, chronic snoring is often a tell-tale sign of OSA.
If OSA goes untreated, the repeated stress of snoring and temporary apnea (cessation of breathing) on the heart can accumulate, leading to significantly greater incidences of cardiovascular disease.
Studies have shown that individuals with untreated sleep apnea have a significantly higher risk of fatal and nonfatal cardiovascular events compared to the general population.
How Snoring Affects Your Heart: Exploring the Mechanisms
When a person with OSA sleeps, their airways can become partially or completely blocked, causing them to stop breathing momentarily. This interruption (known as apnea) forces the heart to pump harder to circulate oxygen. If OSA is left untreated, these repeated episodes of low oxygen levels and the associated strain on the cardiovascular system can lead to high blood pressure, or hypertension, a major risk factor for heart disease.
Risk Factors for Snoring and Cardiovascular Disease
with physical attributes, age, obesity, nasal and sinus problems, and tobacco and alcohol use, as discussed in the chronic snoring causes and symptoms section (above), several other risk factors for heart disease can indicate potentially harmful snoring in adults. These include:
- Gender: Men are more likely to snore and develop sleep apnea than women, partly due to differences in airway structure and hormonal factors. Men are also at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease earlier in life than women, though the risk increases for women after menopause.
- Family history: Genetic factors can predispose individuals to both snoring and cardiovascular disease. A family history of sleep apnea, heart disease, or other related conditions may increase the risk for an individual.
- Sedentary lifestyle: A lack of regular physical activity can contribute to muscle tone loss, weight gain, and reduced lung capacity, all of which can increase the risk of snoring and OSA. A sedentary lifestyle is also a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease, as it can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Chronic Snoring
Diagnosing and treating chronic snoring is a crucial step towards improving sleep quality and overall health, as well as preventing potential complications such as cardiovascular disease. Here’s a look at how chronic snoring is typically diagnosed and treated:
If chronic snoring is suspected, a healthcare provider will typically begin by taking a thorough medical history and conducting a physical exam. They may ask about the frequency and severity of the snoring, any observed breathing interruptions during sleep, levels of daytime sleepiness, and any other associated symptoms.
To confirm the diagnosis and evaluate the severity, a sleep study (polysomnography) may be ordered. This test records brain waves, heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and breathing as well as eye and leg movements during sleep. A home sleep test may also be an option.
Snoring treatment depends on the underlying cause. While there’s no magic sleep medicine pill, there are some common snoring remedies:
- Lifestyle modifications: Weight loss, regular exercise, avoiding alcohol and sedatives, quitting smoking, and changing sleep positions can help reduce snoring in some individuals.
- Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP): For people diagnosed with sleep apnea, a CPAP machine may be recommended. This device delivers a steady stream of air through a mask worn during sleep, keeping the airway open and preventing snoring and apneas.
- Inspire for Sleep Apnea: Inspire for sleep apnea is a highly-effective, surgical treatment for OSA which involves the implantation of a small device into the patient’s body.
- Airlift Hyoid Suspension: Airlift hyoid suspension is a simple and safe procedure that helps open and expand the airway.
- Adjunctive Upper Airway Surgery: In some cases, surgical procedures may be recommended to remove excess tissue from the throat or nose or to correct structural issues contributing to snoring.
- Positional therapy: For some people, snoring is most pronounced when sleeping on their backs. Special devices can help promote side sleeping.
- Nasal strips or sprays: Over-the-counter options can help reduce snoring caused by nasal congestion or nasal valve collapse.
Remember, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional if you’re concerned about chronic snoring. They can provide a proper diagnosis and recommend the most appropriate treatment options based on individual health needs.
Strategies for Improving Heart Health in Snorers
Along with treating your chronic snoring (with one of the methods mentioned above, or according to a professional’s recommendation), if you’ve been diagnosed as a chronic snorer, then there are several strategies to improve your heart health and combat any potential negative impact snoring has had. These heart disease prevention methods include:
Making positive changes to your lifestyle can significantly improve heart health. These changes may include losing weight if you’re overweight, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, and incorporating regular physical activity into your daily routine.
A heart-healthy diet can help reduce your risk of heart disease. This typically involves eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, while limiting salt, saturated and trans fats, and added sugars.
Manage Blood Pressure and Cholesterol
High blood pressure and high cholesterol are risk factors for heart disease. If you have these conditions, it’s important to manage them effectively, often through a combination of diet, exercise, and medication.
Chronic stress can contribute to heart disease. Implementing stress management techniques, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or other relaxation therapies, can be beneficial for heart health.
Regular medical check-ups can help detect any potential issues early and keep track of your heart health.
Taking Action to Protect Your Heart Health in the Face of Chronic Snoring in San Diego, CA
While chronic snoring can lead to potentially serious cardiovascular issues, you can take action to avoid this starting right now. If you or a loved one is suffering from chronic snoring and you’re concerned about potential health implications, contact Dr. Schalch Lepe at (858) 925-5800 or book your consultation online immediately.