Treating Sleep Apnea Improves Outcomes for an Irregular Heartbeat

There’s good news for people who suffer from both obstructive sleep apnea and a common type of irregular heartbeat, known as atrial fibrillation (AF). According to newly published meta-analysis, patients have far fewer recurrences of AF when they use positive airway pressure (PAP) therapy to treat their sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea affects approximately 18-20 million Americans. The condition causes the back of the throat to collapse hundreds of time during sleep, blocking the airway and causing people to wake up gasping for air.

Sleep apnea comes with added risks of high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, and diabetes, all significantly impacting healthcare costs, quality of life, as well as safety and productivity at work. The effect of sleep apnea on the heart is well known—from causing heart failure and vascular inflammation, to over activity of the sympathetic nervous system that drives heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose and stress hormones.

AF affects up to five million Americans—a number that is expected to rise to 12 million by 2030—and is characterized by uncomfortable palpitations, shortness of breath and can result in heart failure and stroke. Treatments include medications to thin the blood and/or control the heart rhythm, as well as surgery to remove faulty electrical pathways within the heart.  Despite the notable symptoms of AF, it often goes undiagnosed and even with treatment can recur without warning.

In a new study, Dr. Larry Chinitz of NYU Langone Medical Center compiled and evaluated the results of seven previous studies affecting more than 1,000 patients who had both AF and sleep apnea. The results show that individuals with sleep apnea who use PAP therapy can dramatically decrease the recurrence of AF.  Patients with sleep apnea treated for AF with medication and/or surgery who also used PAP saw a 45% reduction in AF recurrence when compared to those who did not use PAP treatments.

Both sleep apnea and AF can negatively impact the productivity and effectiveness of those who suffer from these conditions, but with PAP, their quality of life and overall health are significantly improved.  Since 80+% of people with sleep apnea are currently undiagnosed, all AF patients should be screened for sleep apnea to assess if PAP treatment is an option.

FusionHealth is the leader in diagnosing and treating sleep apnea and other sleep disorders while providing sleep health solutions that deliver lasting results to employees, their families and their companies.

Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Clinical Electrophysiology, online April 20, 2015.
JACCCEP. 2015;1(1):103-104. doi:10.1016/j.jacep.2015.03.010