A new study examines the link between sleep apnea and “cardiac arrhythmias” – abnormal heart rhythms.
The study involved 2,911 older men. Sleep apnea was measured during an overnight sleep study. Heart monitoring detected two groups of abnormal heart rhythms: atrial fibrillation or flutter (AF), and complex ventricular ectopy (CVE).
Results show that the general risk of AF and CVE increased as the severity of sleep apnea increased. The specific risks varied according to the type of sleep apnea that men had.
Men with obstructive sleep apnea had a greater risk of CVE but not AF. Men with central sleep apnea were between two and three times more likely to have AF.
The NHLBI reports that the atria are the two upper chambers of the heart. They collect blood as it comes into the heart. The ventricles are the two lower chambers. They pump blood out of the heart to the lungs or other parts of the body.
A person’s heart rate generally slows down during sleep. But AF involves a very fast heart rate that can be irregular (fibrillation) or regular (flutter). AF is the most common type of serious arrhythmia. Long-term AF can lead to stroke and heart failure.
CVE is a term that includes a variety of premature and abnormal heart-beat patterns. Abnormal heart rhythms that start in the ventricles also can be very dangerous.
A 2006 study found that people with severe sleep apnea were four times more likely to have atrial fibrillation; they were almost twice as likely to have CVE.
Learn more on SleepEducation.com: A scientific statement published in 2008 urged doctors to pay attention to the link between sleep apnea and heart disease. Studies show that CPAP therapy for obstructive sleep apnea helps the heart.
Find out more about cardiac arrhythmias on the NHLBI Web site.
Get help for sleep apnea at an AASM-accredited sleep center near you.