Sleep Apnea and Atrial Fibrillation: How They’re Connected

Research points to a strong link between obstructive sleep apnea and atrial fibrillation. Learn why treating both conditions is crucial.

7:00 AM

Author | Jane Racey Gleeson

After diagnosing a patient with atrial fibrillation, a doctor might recommend testing for obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA.

MORE FROM MICHIGAN: Sign up for our weekly newsletter

The reason: "Obstructive sleep apnea is highly associated with atrial fibrillation," says Krit Jongnarangsin, M.D., an electrophysiologist at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center.

Atrial fibrillation, or Afib, affects an estimated 6 million Americans. It is an arrhythmia characterized by a quivering or irregular heartbeat that can lead to stroke and other heart-related complications.

Although atrial fibrillation can have a range of causes — age, heart disease and hypertension among them — research reveals a strong link between Afib and OSA.

About half of Afib patients have OSA.

People with OSA experience a blockage in the airway, or restricted breathing, for 10 seconds or longer during sleep. The condition can range from mild to severe, based in part on the number of times each hour that a patient stops breathing.

Sleep apnea risk factors

Jongnarangsin recommends that patients diagnosed with Afib be assessed for the following risk factors associated with OSA:

  • Excess weight

  • Narrowed airway

  • Chronic nasal congestion

  • High blood pressure

  • Smoking and alcohol use

  • Age (OSA is more common after age 40)

  • Gender (OSA is more common in men)

  • Family history of OSA

Further examination is needed if risk factors are found.

"We refer them to a sleep specialist, who will screen the patient and, if OSA is diagnosed, recommend continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment," Jongnarangsin says.

Treating both conditions

CPAP treatment involves wearing a mask during sleep. The mask conducts pressurized air through the nose, or through the nose and mouth, to the throat. The added pressure in the throat then keeps it from collapsing during sleep to enable normal breathing.

SEE ALSO: How Chronic Snoring Can Cause Heart Disease

A patient's Afib is treated in conjunction with CPAP treatment, says Jongnarangsin.

The treatment for Afib is often catheter ablation, a minimally invasive technique in which a catheter is threaded through the blood vessels and into the left atrium of the heart, where radiofrequency or cryo energy is applied to the heart muscle to cauterize the "short circuits" in the heart's electrical system that are generating the Afib.

That method is most effective when combined with CPAP adherence.

"Ablation is more successful in patients who are using CPAP for their OSA," Jongnarangsin says. "If a patient is diagnosed with OSA but not treated for it, the Afib recurrence following ablation is much higher than in patients without obstructive sleep apnea."

That's why it's crucial for Afib patients and their health care providers to discuss the possibility of OSA and, if detected, to treat both conditions.


More Articles About: Heart Health Atrial fibrillation (Afib) Sleep Apnea Cardiovascular: Diseases & Conditions
Health Lab word mark overlaying blue cells
Health Lab

Explore a variety of health care news & stories by visiting the Health Lab home page for more articles.

Media Contact Public Relations

Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine

[email protected]

734-764-2220

Stay Informed

Want top health & research news weekly? Sign up for Health Lab’s newsletters today!

Subscribe
Featured News & Stories blood pressure cuff on mans arm with white coat doctor taking it
Health Lab
Blood pressure high for years? Beware of stroke risk
A study led by Michigan Medicine narrows in on the cumulative effects of years of high systolic blood pressure — the top number on the blood pressure reading and how hard the heart pumps blood to the arteries — finding that a higher average reading during adulthood is linked with a greater risk for the two most common types of stroke.
woman laying down and sheet over going into surgery
Health Lab
Older women more likely to receive heart surgery, die at low quality hospitals
Women over the age of 65 who require complex heart surgery are more likely than men to receive care at low quality hospitals — where they also die in greater numbers following the procedure, a Michigan Medicine study finds.
woman smiling with man in michigan gear selfie
Health Lab
Getting ahead of aortic disease
Patient bypasses a life threatening aortic aneurysm with the help of Michigan Medicine's genetic counseling and a streamlined cardiac referral program.
heart drawing
Health Lab
New risk equation could mean preventive statins for far fewer Americans
The tool, based on updated information about atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, could mean fewer people would be recommended to take statin medications
mom smiling with 3 kids
Health Lab
Adolescents with heart disease learn resilience skills, connect with peers through unique program
Youth with heart disease enrolled in unique program that teaches resilience and builds connections with their peers
heart organ yellow blue
Health Lab
Around 10% of deaths from coronary stenting, balloon angioplasty are preventable
Around 10% of all deaths following percutaneous coronary intervention are potentially preventable, a study led by Michigan Medicine finds.