WebMD Logo Icon
WebMD Connect to Care helps you find services to manage your health. When you purchase any of these services, WebMD may receive a fee. WebMD does not endorse any product, service or treatment referred to on this page. X

Can Sleep Apnea Cause High Blood Pressure?

By Zawn Villines
Sleep apnea and high blood pressure often appear together. High blood pressure is both a risk factor for sleep apnea and a potential complication.

Sleep apnea and high blood pressure are often linked. But can sleep apnea actually cause high blood pressure? Research suggests that people with sleep apnea have a greater risk of developing high blood pressure and that treating sleep apnea may reduce this risk.

What’s the Link Between Sleep Apnea and High Blood Pressure?

There are multiple types of sleep apnea, and obstructive sleep apnea, which is caused by the abnormal relaxation of the throat muscles that obstructs the airway during sleep, is the most common one. 

Several studies have documented a link between sleep apnea and the development of high blood pressure. According to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, people with high blood pressure whose blood pressure does not drop at night are more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea. Similarly, a 2018 paper published in the Journal of Cardiology and Cardiovascular Sciences emphasizes that obstructive sleep apnea is a risk factor for high blood pressure. 

“Sleep apnea activates the sympathetic nervous system because it puts the body in fight or flight mode due to oxygen deficiency during apneic spells,” Hira Shaheen, MD, tells WebMD Connect to Care. 

Simply put, when your breathing repeatedly stops and starts, it can put pressure on your heart and cause your blood pressure to rise—this is also known as sympathetic activation.

“Sympathetic activation also increases blood pressure and the heart rate. So, hypoxia is a stressor for your body and strains your cardiovascular system, and a consistent rise in blood pressure leads to hypertension,” Shaheen says. 

A 2017 review published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology emphasizes a link between untreated obstructive sleep apnea and heart health risk factors. In fact, obstructive sleep apnea is associated with a higher incidence of stroke, heart rhythm disorders, heart failure, and coronary heart disease.

So, sleep apnea isn’t just a risk factor for high blood pressure. It may also be an early warning sign of underlying heart disease—or a risk factor for developing it. 

This doesn’t mean that you have to panic if you have sleep apnea, though. Treating your sleep disorder may also improve heart health. According to a 2018 review published in the Journal of Thoracic Disease, several studies suggest that treating obstructive sleep apnea reduces cardiovascular health risks. This includes a reduction in the sympathetic nervous system activation that can lead to high blood pressure. 

Think you may have sleep apnea? You can start your journey to more restful sleep TODAY.

Untreated sleep disorders can negatively affect your physical and emotional health. Sleep testing can help you get the answers you need to receive the treatment you deserve. WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.