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Sleep Apnea and High Blood Pressure: 5 Facts You Should Know

By Lan Pham, Adrienne Keller
Medically Reviewed by Lisa Shives, MD, PC on August 30, 2021
Sleep apnea and high blood pressure can be more closely related than you might think. Discover 5 facts about the connections between the two conditions.

Sleep apnea causes a blockage to your airway during sleep, resulting in disrupted breathing and reduced oxygen intake. With obstructive sleep apnea, the problem originates in the throat muscles. Central sleep apnea, on the other hand, is caused by a problem with the brain signals that help control breathing. It’s also possible for a person to have both of these types of sleep apnea. But is the condition linked to high blood pressure? Read on for 5 facts about the connections between sleep apnea and hypertension.

Current research indicates a connection between obstructive sleep apnea and hypertension. 

A 2018 article published by the Journal of Hypertension notes that the connection between obstructive sleep apnea and both acute and chronic increases in blood pressure is well-established by scientific literature.

While central sleep apnea is common in patients with advanced heart failure, these patients typically have low blood pressure. The relationship between central sleep apnea and hypertension, if there is any, is therefore currently unclear. 

Obstructive sleep apnea can cause high blood pressure.

When you periodically stop breathing in your sleep, your body releases stress hormones. The American Heart Association explains that, with obstructive sleep apnea, these hormones can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease. 

“Slowed or disrupted breathing causes blood oxygenation to decrease, which triggers the brain to send signals to increase blood pressure and heart rate in an attempt to increase oxygen getting to the body’s tissues,” Jenna Liphart Rhoads, PhD, RN, CNE and advisor at NurseTogether, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

Even when awake, the effects of obstructive sleep apnea can cause your blood pressure to stay elevated.

Apneic periods, or moments when you stop breathing, that occur while you sleep can cause your blood pressure to remain high throughout the day. 

“Sleep apnea can cause hypertension due to the drops in blood oxygenation during apneic periods,” Liphart Rhoads explains. “When this is a frequent occurrence, blood pressure continues to stay elevated even when adequate oxygenation is not a problem.”

Severe obstructive sleep apnea has been linked to drug-resistant high blood pressure.

In 2014, a group of researchers set out to test their hypothesis that untreated severe obstructive sleep apnea is connected to high blood pressure in patients with a high risk for cardiovascular disease—despite medical management of high blood pressure with an intensive hypertensive drug regimen. 

The findings of this study were published in a 2014 article appearing in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. The article reports that, indeed, untreated severe obstructive sleep apnea is associated with high blood pressure, even when patients are undergoing treatment with an intensive hypertensive drug regimen. This suggests that severe obstructive sleep apnea can contribute to medication-resistant hypertension. 

Treating your sleep apnea can also help treat high blood pressure.

As your breathing improves and your oxygen levels stabilize in response to treatment for sleep apnea, your blood pressure may also get better. While you should always speak with your doctor before adjusting your medications, some people are able to reduce their intake of blood pressure medications following treatment for sleep apnea.

Think you may have sleep apnea? You can start your journey to a 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.