February 1st marks the start of National Heart Month. Campaigners are raising awareness of the dangers of heart disease – and with good reason. Every 6 minutes, someone in the UK is struck by a heart attack. Every 3 minutes, someone in the UK is killed by cardiovascular disease. This accounts for more than 25% of all deaths in Britain.
What many people don’t realise is that snoring is closely linked with heart health. Loud snoring is often a symptom of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), a condition where you stop breathing in the night. OSA can significantly increase the risk of sudden cardiac death.
Snoring is caused by the soft tissue in the back of the throat vibrating when the airway relaxes during sleep. But in some cases, the airway becomes so narrow that the walls of the airway stick together and close up. This usually happens for around 10-30 seconds at a time, but can occur for longer – sometimes up to 50 times an hour or even more. When the airway finally opens up again, the sleeper might emit a loud, violent snore. This event is known as an apnoea.
Looking after your heart health
For many years, researchers have understood that OSA can lead to several heart conditions. These include heart attacks, high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation (feeling your heart race or flutter in your chest). After discovering that people with OSA more frequently died suddenly from cardiac causes, scientists decided to explore the relationship between sleep apnoea and sudden cardiac death.
One study monitored 10,000 people for around 5 years, and 142 people experienced sudden cardiac death. The most common predictor of this was being:
- aged over 60
- having around 20 apnoea episodes an hour
- having a lowest oxygen saturation level of below 78%.
Low oxygen saturation happens in OSA sufferers when air doesn’t flow into their lungs while they’re sleeping. Because of this, their blood oxygen levels drop. Researchers showed that a drop below 78% increases the risk of sudden cardiac death by 80%.
Diagnosing and treating OSA can improve the quality of life for both the sufferer and their bed partner. It also has the added benefit of helping to prevent cardiovascular disease. If one partner regularly notices the other stop breathing during sleep, this is a good indicator that they probably have obstructive sleep apnoea.
Dealing with OSA
OSA is most commonly treated with a CPAP machine, or an oral device (also known as a mandibular advancement device). CPAP treatment involves wearing a mask over your face while you sleep, and it works by increasing the air pressure in your upper airway. This helps to make sure your airway doesn’t collapse. Oral devices are similar to gum shields, and work by holding your jaw slightly forward. This keeps your airway open, helping you to breathe easily. The SleepDoctor Oral Device is a boil-and-bite mouthpiece that can be moulded at home in under 5 minutes.
If you suspect you or your partner suffer from OSA, you should visit your doctor as soon as possible. They’ll be able to advise which treatment is most suitable for you. Heart health is hugely important – so if you snore loudly, don’t ignore the warning signs.