How does sleep apnea affect the heart?

I am reluctant to get tested for sleep apnea. But I’m pretty sure that I have it, and I’m concerned because I’ve heard that it can contribute to heart disease. How are these two conditions connected?

As you certainly know, people with sleep apnea can snore loudly and may also breathe frequently during the night. The disease affects people of all ages and sizes, but it is most common in men over the age of 40 who are overweight or obese. And you’re right: it’s closely related to cardiovascular disease.

Here’s why: every time a person with sleep apnea stops breathing, the body’s oxygen level decreases. The body responds by releasing a stress hormone, epinephrine (also called adrenaline). Over time , high levels of adrenaline can lead to high blood pressure. Repeated blood pressure spikes can damage the lining of the blood vessels, and sleep disruptions can also increase the levels of dangerous LDL cholesterol and other blood fats. These changes can lead to clogged arteries and poor heart muscle function. People with untreated sleep apnea are twice as likely to have a heart attack compared to someone who do not have a sleep apnea.