Cardiovascular diseases due to sleep disorders

Cardiovascular diseases due to sleep disorders

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Breathing interruptions during sleep strain the heart

Not only do sleep disorders cause those affected to be tired and unconcentrated during the day, they can also result in serious health problems and, among other things, trigger or exacerbate cardiovascular diseases.

Good and adequate sleep is important for our heart. Conversely, sleep problems can put enormous strain on the important organ. Cardiovascular diseases such as atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure or heart failure can be triggered or exacerbated by nocturnal breathing interruptions, the so-called sleep apnea. This is what the German Heart Foundation points out in a current announcement.

One in three suffers from nocturnal breathing interruptions

"Around a third of the patients who suffer from atrial fibrillation have a sleep apnea that requires treatment," explains the cardiac foundation expert Prof. Dr. med. Helgo Magnussen, Head of the Pneumology, Allergology and Sleep Medicine Section at the Medizinicum Hamburg.

According to current estimates, up to 33 percent of people in Germany suffer from breathing interruptions at night, which is around 14.4 million men and women; Men are affected about twice as often as women.

"The need for treatment depends on the severity of sleep apnea, other illnesses such as difficult to adjust high blood pressure or atrial fibrillation and the symptoms of the patient," emphasizes the cardiac foundation expert and sleep medicine specialist Prof. Michael Arzt, head of the University Sleep Medicine Center of the Clinic for Internal Medicine on University Clinic Regensburg.

Sleep apnea often goes undetected for a long time

Sleep apnea often goes undetected for a long time. The patients themselves usually only notice that they sleep poorly or feel tired and exhausted in the morning. Their partners occasionally describe that the person concerned is snoring.

Or they notice that the breath stops short. The breathing pause is followed by a deep breath with violent snoring - those affected usually wake up briefly without remembering the next morning.

As explained on the internet portal "Pulmonologists on the Net", snoring can in some cases reach a volume of up to 90 decibels, which corresponds approximately to the volume of a jackhammer. According to the experts, the typical sounds of snoring, in which breathing pauses alternate with violent gasping, acoustically reflect the breathing in and out.

Have sleep disorders clarified

"In severe forms of sleep apnea, those affected wake up more than 300 times a night," explains Professor Arzt. In addition to feeling tired the next morning, heart patients may experience symptoms of heart disease such as shortness of breath or chest pain at night or worsen.

“For this reason, patients with high blood pressure, weak heart and atrial fibrillation should always consider the presence of sleep-related breathing disorders. People with cardiovascular diseases should therefore definitely have sleep disorders clarified, ”warns Prof. Arzt.

Around a third of those with atrial fibrillation have sleep apnea that requires treatment. Risk factors that contribute to the development of sleep apnea include overweight, alcohol consumption, heart failure and medication (e.g. opiates and benzodiazepines).

If sleep apnea is suspected, patients are given a portable device that records important bodily functions during sleep. If the examination confirms the suspicion, the diagnosis is made in a sleep laboratory.

Therapy with a nasal mask

The most important and most effective therapy for sleep apnea is CPAP ventilation (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). The patient wears a nasal mask that is connected to a ventilator that creates a permanent positive pressure that keeps the airways open.

Some people initially find it difficult to wear the mask. However, since the treatment noticeably improves sleep, most people accept wearing the mask. In addition to CPAP ventilation, there are other general measures that can improve breathing-related sleep disorders. These include:

  • Losing excess weight
  • Refrain from alcohol consumption
  • Optimize cardiac therapy
  • Measures to avoid lying on your back while you sleep

Consistent treatment of sleep apnea improves the condition of cardiac patients and facilitates the treatment of atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure and heart failure.

It may also help some people with sleep apnea to exchange ideas with other people as part of a self-help group. This is indicated by the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG) on its patient information portal "". "Above all, it is important to be patient and to get support in the event of problems," write the experts. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • German Heart Foundation: Sleep disorders: Nocturnal breathing interruptions strain the heart, (accessed: December 8, 2019), German Heart Foundation
  • Pulmonologists online: What is sleep apnea, (accessed: December 8, 2019), pulmonologists online
  • Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG): Obstructive sleep apnea, (accessed: December 8, 2019),

Video: Researchers Find Potential Heart Disease, Sleep Apnea Link (August 2022).