Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) increases a person’s risk for a number of life-threatening health problems, including hypertension. Yet a recent study holds promise that there may be a way to block high blood pressure in those with sleep apnea.

The Heart-Breaking Reality of Sleep Apnea

OSA is characterized by repeated breathing interruptions during sleep, and it is often accompanied by chronic snoring. During the episodes in which breathing stops, blood-oxygen levels also drop. These sudden decreases cause the body to send out a distress signal of sorts to restore breathing; however, the signals also heighten the blood pressure in response.

Sleep apnea can lead to hypertension

These dangerous spikes in blood pressure are not confined to restless sleep. For many who suffer from sleep apnea, blood pressure may remain elevated throughout the day.

This stress on the cardiovascular system can lead to hypertension as well as heart attack, abnormal heartbeat, and stroke. If an underlying heart disease is present, untreated sleep apnea can lead to dangerously low blood-oxygen levels that result in sudden death.

Halting Hypertension?

Recent research based at the University of Chicago identified the mechanism behind sleep apnea-related hypertension and may have discovered a way to disrupt the signals that trigger high blood pressure. Using a rodent model, researchers mapped the sequence of signals between the onset of breathing interruptions and the increase in blood pressure.

Scientists found that inhibiting a particular enzyme could interrupt this chain and prevent the signal to raise blood pressure. Previous research targeted the carotid bodies, tiny sensory organs that detect and signal changes in blood oxygen; but inhibiting the carotid bodies actually led to sleep apnea and additional problems related to unregulated breathing in some patients.

The new research suggests a medication could be developed to obstruct the specific enzyme that activates the carotid bodies and elevates blood pressure. The findings were published in the Aug. 16 edition of the journal Science Signaling.

Treating Sleep Apnea

The best way to prevent hypertension and the other potentially deadly effects of OSA is to pursue treatment. It’s time to seek help if:

  • You regularly snore loud enough to wake yourself or others
  • You often wake from sleep with a sensation of gasping or choking
  • Others have noticed stoppages in your breathing during sleep
  • You frequently feel drowsy or fatigued during the day, and you have difficulty focusing for extended periods

Sleep apnea can often be treated with comfortable, form-fitting, oral appliances. These mouthpieces are designed for your specific bite structure, and they are crafted to hold your jaw in its optimal position while you sleep to promote an open airflow.

The dentists at Smile Columbia Dentistry have extensive experience helping patients treat sleep apnea and restore restful sleep, and we are members of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine. If you live in Columbia, SC, and you suspect you or a loved one may suffer from sleep apnea, please call us today at (803) 781-9090 to schedule a consultation.