February is American Heart Month, and according to the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project, leaving severe obstructive sleep apnea untreated raises an individual’s risk of suffering a fatal heart attack. In order to raise public awareness of this risk, the associations – in partnership with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Sleep Research Society (SRS) – are launching an ad campaign called “Sleep Apnea Hurts Hearts.”
A recent study published in the American Heart Association’s (AHA) journal, Circulation, found that both moderate and severe forms of sleep apnea were associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Treatment for sleep apnea often involves the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device.
“Obstructive sleep apnea is a dangerous disease that can severely damage your heart if left untreated,” said Dr. Ronald Chervin, president of the AASM and a spokesperson for the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project. “With millions of sufferers remaining undiagnosed, it is critical to raise nationwide awareness about obstructive sleep apnea so that it can be treated with CPAP therapy, which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular death.”
In the context of the ad campaign, the word HEARTS is used as an acronym which names all of the negative health consequences of uncontrolled obstructive sleep apnea. The condition increases the risk of heart failure, elevated blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, resistant hypertension, type 2 diabetes and stroke.
“It is clear that untreated, severe obstructive sleep apnea may have a devastating impact on heart health,” said Dr. Janet B. Croft, senior chronic disease epidemiologist in CDC’s Division of Population Health. “Anyone who has symptoms of sleep apnea such as loud snoring in addition to obesity and a heart problem or high blood pressure should discuss their risk for sleep apnea with their doctor.”
Obstructive sleep apnea is characterized by the collapse of the upper airway during sleep, and affects almost 30 million Americans. Obesity, high blood pressure, snoring and fatigue are all risk factors and warning signs of sleep apnea, according to the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project.