Can Sleep Apnea Cause AFib ?

A good night’s rest is something that you don’t really pay attention to when you get it. But when you can’t sleep well? Everything can begin to fall apart. Missing one night of sleep can typically be recuperated fairly quickly, but people who have chronic sleeping problems can begin to experience a whole selection of other consequences that are related to sleeping problems.

One sleeping disorder in particular, sleep apnea, has a tendency to cause a number of serious health problems. Sleep apnea is a condition in which the body does not breathe as it should during sleep. Due to either airway blockage or neurological problems, people with sleep apnea have episodes in which their breathing is delayed for several seconds or even a minute during sleep. This causes a shortage of oxygen as well as an increase in carbon dioxide and a myriad of other side effects.

Symptoms for people with sleep apnea include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Occasionally waking up with a choking sensation or gasping for air
  • Waking up with a headache
  • Insomnia or sleeplessness
  • Lack of energy during the day
  • Sleepiness during activity such as driving
  • Mood changes, irritability, forgetfulness, relationship struggles, work performance issues

People who have sleep apnea have an increased likeliness to have heart problems, and some studies are showing that strong links exist between the respiratory disturbances of sleep apnea and atrial fibrillation.

Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea

Some people are more likely than others to develop sleep apnea. Factors for people who are at a higher risk for this condition include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having a family history of sleep apnea
  • High blood pressure
  • Large neck circumference (17” in men and 16” in women)
  • Swollen adenoids or tonsils (usually in children)
  • Blocked airways through condition such as deviated septum or allergies
  • Recessed jaw
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol regularly in excess
  • Use of narcotics, tranquilizers or other certain drugs
  • Being male
  • Being older
  • Having thyroid problems

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) is a heart condition where abnormal heart beating (arrhythmia) or quivering can cause serious health problems such a blood clot, heart failure, stroke, or other dangerous heart conditions. Statistics estimate that at least 2.7 million people in the United States live with AFib, and more than 33 million people throughout the world.

Caused by chaos in the electrical signals, AFIb causes the heart of quiver or beat incorrectly, rather than contracting in the way that it should. Some people with AFib might be able to feel the irregular beating of their hearts, while others may not notice this at all.

Certain people are at higher risks for AFib. Risk factors for this condition include:

  • Older age (more than 60 years)
  • High blood pressure
  • Thyroid disease
  • Excessive use of alcohol or stimulants
  • Diabetes
  • Prior heart problems or surgeries
  • Certain chronic diseases or infection
  • Sleep apnea

Sleep Apnea and AFib

It is estimated that about half of the people who are diagnosed with AFIb also have sleep apnea. And patients who have sleep apnea have a four times higher risk that they will develop AFib. Clearly, the two are interrelated. Many of the risk factors for the two conditions are overlapping, and many of the results (such as high blood pressure and diabetes) are connected.

One analysis, published in JACC Clinical Electrophysiology, came to the conclusion that obstructive sleep apnea not only causes AFib in patients who didn’t previously have it, but it can also trigger abnormal beating of the heart in patients who are already living with AFib.

Treatment for Sleep Apnea and Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)

The good news about the link between sleep apnea and AFib is that there are treatment options that can help restore patients to a more normal lifestyle and health status. The most common treatment for people with obstructive sleep apnea is Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine which allows air to flow through the body and keep blocked airways open. This is a simple machine used during sleep that attaches to the face with a hose and a mask.

For people who have sleep apnea and AFib, treatment with a CPAP machine not only solves most of the problems related to sleep apnea, but it also minimizes the impact of AFib. Several studies have shown that use of a CPAP machine decreased the likeliness of abnormal heart rhythms by more than 40%. Other treatments for sleep apnea, including lifestyle changes such as weight loss, exercise, quitting smoking, and drinking less alcohol, may also have a significant impact on the health of the heart. All of these treatments have the benefit of reducing the pressure placed on the heart and minimizing the risk of stroke or other related diseases.


If you are concerned that you or a family member may have atrial fibrillation (AFib), sleep apnea, or both, you should contact a medical professional right away to determine the best method of diagnosis and treatment. With both sleep apnea and AFib, treatment options are available that can bring you back to a healthier, happier lifestyle.

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