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Understanding sleep apnea’s impact on aging and heart health and how CPAP therapy can help

Posted on February 13th, 2024

An estimated 936 million people worldwide experience mild to severe obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which the upper airway becomes partially or fully blocked during sleep, leading to pauses in breathing.

This blockage can cause frequent awakenings and gasping or choking for air, resulting in symptoms like difficulty concentrating and excessive daytime drowsiness. If left untreated, sleep apnea increases the risk of various health issues, including heart disease and an accelerated aging process.

But the good news is treatment can help. Studies show that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy can significantly reduce sleep apnea symptoms and prevent long-term risks. 

What is CPAP therapy and how can it help sleep apnea patients?

CPAP therapy is the gold-standard treatment for moderate to severe sleep apnea. It involves wearing a mask connected to a machine that delivers a continuous flow of air to keep the airways open during sleep and prevent breathing pauses. This leads to improved sleep quality, with fewer disruptions and better restorative sleep.

Other sleep apnea treatment options include medications, surgical options, and lifestyle changes such as good sleep hygiene, weight management, and a healthy diet.

The link between sleep apnea, heart disease, and aging

Increased risk of heart disease

Heart disease is one of the most concerning risks associated with untreated sleep apneaThe repeated cycles of oxygen deprivation and arousal during sleep can strain the cardiovascular system, leading to high blood pressure, inflammation, and other mechanisms that contribute to the development of heart disease.

Studies presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress shed light on how OSA affects the heart. One study suggests that using a CPAP machine at night may reduce the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. Another study found that CPAP therapy may be more effective than a weight loss drug at reducing plaque buildup in the arteries around the heart.

Using a CPAP machine to treat OSA is associated with a lower risk of fatal and nonfatal cardiovascular events. Research also suggests that CPAP treatment can lower blood pressure, improve echocardiographic parameters, maintain left ventricular function, and reduce the risk of venous thromboembolism.

These studies provide important insights into the potential benefits of CPAP therapy for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, further research is needed to confirm these findings and explore the optimal timing and duration of CPAP therapy.

Accelerated aging

CPAP therapy may also reduce the accelerated aging associated with sleep apnea. A study at the Federal University of São Paulo found that sleep apnea accelerates the natural shortening of telomeres, which are important for maintaining genetic material in cells. But CPAP therapy can mitigate this process.

As part of the study, researchers evaluated 46 male patients with moderate or severe OSA, treating one group with CPAP and the other with a placebo. They found that CPAP therapy reduced the accelerated telomere shortening associated with OSA. Inflammation also plays a key role in the link between OSA and telomere shortening, and researchers found that CPAP therapy reduced inflammation markers as well.

Sleep apnea is not just a condition that disrupts sleep. It can have far-reaching effects on health, including accelerating aging and increasing the risk of heart disease. However, CPAP therapy offers an effective solution by improving sleep quality, reducing cardiovascular risks, and potentially slowing down aging processes.

If you suspect you may have sleep apnea or have been diagnosed with it, talk to your healthcare provider about CPAP therapy as a treatment option.

Dr. Meghna Dassani has practiced dentistry for over two decades and is passionate about the role dentists play in whole-body health. You can learn more at her website:

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