Sleep apnea leads to a host of negative effects, ranging from daytime drowsiness and headaches to impaired functioning, stroke, and heart failure. Plus, 18 million Americans experience its symptoms, according to the AGD. However, a new study highlights yet another danger for these patients.
By measuring the impact of simulated sleep apnea on human beings, researchers at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus found that just 6 hours of the fluctuating oxygen levels associated with sleep apnea can begin to deteriorate the circulatory system and impair the body’s ability to regulate blood pressure.
“While it is well established that sleep apnea is linked to high blood pressure, our study shows this condition has an impact on the cardiovascular system that can begin within a single day,” said Glen Foster, MSc, an assistant professor of health and exercise science. “These changes occurred almost immediately in healthy young adults who were not experiencing the cumulative effects years of sleep apnea could bring about.”
Foster and his colleagues examined the impact of intermittent hypoxia, or periods of decreased oxygen levels in the body, on the cardiovascular system in 10 healthy young males. The subjects wore a ventilating mask for 6 hours, and oxygen levels were altered to mimic sleep apnea symptoms at one-minute cycles of normoxia and hypoxia.
The results showed that sleep apnea compromised the function of the body’s baroreceptors, which are biological sensors that regulate blood pressure. They also revealed damaging blood flow patterns in the legs, which could impact vascular health with time.
“These findings suggest that interventions for people suffering sleep apnea should occur as soon as the condition is diagnosed,” said Foster.