Sleep apnea and AFib are two closely linked health conditions. In fact, sleep apnea can increase the risk of AFib.

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If you have atrial fibrillation (AFib), you may experience palpations, shortness of breath, and fatigue, among other symptoms. What you may not realize is that AFib is related to sleep apnea, sharing many of the same risk factors.

Sleep apnea is a type of sleeping disorder in which your breathing briefly and repeatedly pauses. You may also have an increased risk of developing AFib, because the stress of these sleep apnea episodes can cause your heart to beat irregularly.

In this article, we’ll explain more about how AFib and sleep apnea are connected. We’ll also discuss what you can do about treating sleep apnea to reduce the risk of an irregular heartbeat or other health issues.

As the two conditions share many risk factors, a 2021 study found that people with sleep apnea are two to four times more likely to develop AFib.

This happens due to pressure changes in the chest and stress from periods of not breathing. Over time, this can lead to the development of AFib.

At glance: Sleep apnea and AFib

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common breathing condition that results in the narrowing or closing of the airways during sleep.

To correct this, your body briefly wakes up. This happens so quickly that you may not be aware it’s happening. However, these awakenings happen repeatedly throughout the night and make it impossible to get a truly restful night’s sleep. Over time, sleep apnea can lead to serious health complications.

AFib is a type of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. Typically, AFib causes the heart to beat quickly and out of sync, and it may result in poor blood flow. AFib doesn’t always cause symptoms, but you may experience shortness of breath, heart palpations, and fatigue.

Read more about sleep apnea, including the different types and why that can make a difference in your sleeping patterns and overall health.

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AFib and sleep apnea share many of the same risk factors. These include:

Elevated blood pressure, also called hypertension, is considered the biggest single risk factor for AFib. And having both hypertension and sleep apnea increases the risk of AFib.

Episodes of sleep apnea create surges of pressure, which can ultimately contribute to elevated blood pressure.

Sleep apnea is both an independent risk factor for AFib and a contributor to high blood pressure, another AFib risk factor.

Treating sleep apnea is the best way to prevent complications.

The first treatment choice for sleep apnea is almost always a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine. These machines push pressurized air into your airways at night to keep them open and help you breathe. This can help reduce the risk of AFib and other complications.

If you already have AFib, you may need to begin taking medications or undergoing other treatments to help manage your heart rate and rhythm. You can work with your doctor to determine the best treatment route for you and your specific symptoms. It’s important to treat both conditions at the same time so that you can get the best results.

Additional AFib treatments may include:

  • cardioversion to shock your heart back into rhythm
  • catheter ablation to block abnormal electrical impulses
  • a pacemaker to manage your heart’s rhythm

Since sleep apnea and atrial fibrillation share many of the same risk factors, lifestyle changes can also be important. Your doctor might suggest that you:

When to seek medical care

If you believe you might have sleep apnea, consult a doctor. If you’ve been excessively tired during the day, been told you snore, or a partner has told you that you stop breathing in your sleep, sleep apnea could be the cause. Setting up a doctor’s appointment is the best way to find out.

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Sleep apnea and AFib are two closely linked health conditions. Sleep apnea can increase the risk of AFib. This happens because pressure changes in the chest and repeated night-time awakenings with sleep apnea stress the heart. Over time, this can damage your heart’s rhythm and cause AFib.

Additionally, the two conditions share many of the same risk factors. It’s important to treat both conditions at the same time. This can help you get the best results.