Obstructive sleep apnea is a well-known phenomenon that affects millions of people worldwide and causes many medical problems. One of them, a common problem that many are not aware of, is sudden cardiac arrest. In this article, we will explore the relationship between sleep apnea and cases of sleep cardiac arrest, examine the consequences, and understand how you can protect yourself as much as possible from sleep death.

What is sleep apnea?

As mentioned, sleep apnea, or obstructive sleep breathing disorder, as doctors call it, is a phenomenon in which those who suffer from it will experience pauses in breathing during sleep caused by various obstructions in the upper respiratory tract.

A case of sleep apnea will be considered as such when it includes a cessation of breathing of 10 seconds or more, at least 5 times per hour during sleep. Such cases have the potential for great harm and can cause cardiac arrest during sleep and even death during sleep. Studies show that men have a higher possibility of experiencing respiratory cardiac arrest than women, but in general, every person, whether man or woman, who cannot breathe well during sleep and experiences sleep apnea is exposed to other risks such as increased blood pressure, development of heart disease and increased risk of stroke.

Researchers hypothesize that sleep apnea causes a heart rhythm disturbance, from which the patient may die because of sudden cardiac arrest. Sleep apnea causes conditions such as lowering oxygen levels, triggering the “fight or flight” stress response, or creating pressure in the chest that closes on the upper respiratory tract and automatically crushes the heart. These conditions can cause harmful changes in the arteries.

Sleep cardiac arrest: Symptoms. 

According to the U.S. National Institute of Heart, Lung, and Blood Health (NHLBI), about 12 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea (3.5% to 4.6%), although many have not been diagnosed.

People suffering from sleep apnea tend to wake up with headaches and even fall asleep suddenly in the middle of the day. Apart from these symptoms, they are also exposed to a high risk of sudden death. In these patients, the sudden death is not due to a heart attack, but to an abnormal heart rhythm.

Symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Loud snoring.
  • Stopping breathing during sleep.
  • Sleepiness during the day.
  • Chronic fatigue.
  • Falling asleep while driving.
  • Awakening as a result of shortness of breath.
  • Frequent waking up to the bathroom for no apparent reason.
  • Chest pain during sleep.

If you have one or more of these symptoms, it is very important to talk to your doctor. They may give you a referral to a sleep medicine specialist.

How is sleep apnea diagnosed?

Sleep apnea or respiratory cardiac arrest can only be diagnosed when the patient is asleep. Therefore, the test is performed in a sleep laboratory (or at home) that examines the number of times breathing is stopped while the patient sleeps, as well as the patient’s blood oxygen levels, blood pressure, and other parameters that help the laboratory determine the severity of the disorder. According to the number of breathing breaks during sleep, it is possible to determine whether this is a mild or severe condition, with up to 4 breaks this is normal, but when the number of breathing breaks increases, the disorder is considered more severe and requires faster intervention.

If you are concerned that you or a family member is experiencing sleep apnea, it is very important to get tested. Sleep apnea can cause additional heart problems and even impair your daily functioning. Your doctor may suggest that you undergo a sleep assessment in the laboratory or at home.

Sleep apnea treatment is effective in reducing the risk of a life-threatening heart event, but it also helps you sleep and feel better in every way.

What does the research show in the field of sleep apnea?

Early detection and treatment of sleep apnea is the key, current research shows that untreated extreme conditions of severe obstructive apnea cause more deaths, even if other risk factors such as obesity are considered.

In a 5-year study that followed nearly 11,000 people, subjects with obstructive apnea had a higher risk of dying from sudden cardiac arrest. Of the subjects, those aged 60 and older who had moderate to severe apnea (20 breathing breaks per hour) had the highest risk of death.

When oxygen saturation levels in their bodies dropped below 78% – preventing airflow to the lungs – their risk of cardiac arrest increased by 80%.

In addition, the study group showed that people with severe obstructive apnea had two to four times greater risk of arrhythmia than people without sleep apnea.

Other studies have found that heart patients with obstructive apnea are 2.5 times more likely to die from sudden cardiac arrest between midnight and 6:00 a.m.

What to do if apnea is suspected?

If you are concerned that you or a family member is experiencing sleep apnea, it is very important to get tested. Sleep Apnea can cause additional heart problems and even impair your daily functioning. Your doctor may suggest that you undergo a laboratory sleep assessment.

Treatment of sleep apnea is not only effective in reducing the risk of a life-threatening heart event, it also helps you sleep better and feel better in every way.

How is sleep apnea treated?

The most appropriate treatment for cases of sleep apnea depends on the severity of the patient’s condition. In mild and moderate cases, the common recommendation that helps almost everyone is to try to lose weight as well as change sleep positions.

In more severe cases, the treatment is performed using a special device that pumps oxygen through a tube into a mask that is put on the nose and mouth when going to sleep (Oxygen concentrator, CPAP). If you have trouble sleeping with a mask on your face at night, you can also try the option of an oral device that helps open the airways during sleep and is done by dentists.

Early identification and treatment for sleep apnea is key. Current research shows that extremely untreated sleep arrest causes more deaths, even if other risk factors such as obesity are considered.

In conclusion, if you find yourself concerned about sleep apnea, we at Orca Medical offer you the most advanced diagnostic and treatment services for heart disease with our partners. The better you know the risks associated with sleep cardiac arrest and various heart diseases, the more you will gain early and effective detection to help you ensure your well-being and maintain your health.

Contact us now to hear more about how our team of partners can help you treat and even avoid various heart problems.


How do you know if there is sleep apnea?

Self-detection of sleep apnea can be quite challenging because it only happens during sleep, a time when you’re not conscious or understand what you’re feeling right away when it happens. But you can notice some signs that can indicate sleep apnea such as strong snoring, frequent pauses in breathing, feeling extremely tired during the day, and even sleepiness and falling asleep in static situations. If you or your family members experience these symptoms for some time, you should get checked as soon as possible.

Is sleep apnea dangerous?

Yes. Sleep apnea can indeed be dangerous and often leads to cardiac failures and cases of sleep death. This leads to arrhythmias and cardiac complications that can also cause cases of sleep cardiac arrest. Early detection and appropriate treatment can significantly help reduce these risks as well as improve overall health.

What does sleep apnea feel like?

Those who experience sleep apnea may feel exhausted during the day, with spontaneous falling asleep in static situations such as driving. Also, sleep apnea can cause frequent waking due to shortness of breath, and lack of oxygen which causes many wakes during the night and in some cases chest pain during sleep. If you experience these symptoms, you must see a doctor as soon as possible.