The heart and lungs have a close working relationship. And problems with one can make for problems with the other. For example, sleep apnea and high blood pressure often go hand in hand, and each condition is considered a risk factor for the other.

Read on to learn about the relationship between sleep apnea and hypertension as well as how treatments such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) impact your blood pressure. We’ll also explore other medications you may need to help manage your blood pressure.

Sleep apnea is closely linked to high blood pressure (hypertension). High blood pressure happens when the force of blood pumping against the walls of your arteries is consistently too high. This means that your heart and blood vessels are working harder than they should be.

There are two major types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, which is very common, and central sleep apnea, which is much less so.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a disorder in which your airway becomes blocked while you’re asleep. OSA wakes you up continuously throughout the night, causing snoring and daytime sleepiness.

People with OSA are more likely to develop high blood pressure than members of the general population. And people with high blood pressure may be more likely to develop OSA than their peers.

How common is sleep apnea?

Researchers have found that, globally, about 22% of people experience OSA.

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Research suggests that 50% of people with OSA have high blood pressure. While 30% of people with high blood pressure also have OSA.

In people without OSA, blood pressure levels typically fall during the night, in a process called “dipping.” Research shows that people with OSA don’t experience this dip in the same way.

In people with OSA, blood pressure levels often rise and fall throughout the night. Blood pressure increases momentarily, when your airway is blocked, and decreases when your airway opens.

The severity of OSA and high blood pressure may also play a role. Studies suggest that about 75% of the people who have high blood pressure that is resistant to traditional treatments also have underlying sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea can increase your blood pressure in several ways.

When you stop breathing, even for a moment, the oxygen level in your blood can drop (hypoxia) while the carbon dioxide levels increase. This can impact how well your heart can contract and pump blood to the tissues in your body.

Another way OSA increases blood pressure is lack of sleep. Some studies have linked sleeping fewer than 5 hours a night or having frequent sleep interruptions — common in people with OSA — to an increase in blood pressure.

OSA has other effects that may contribute to high blood pressure, including:

Both high blood pressure and OSA can also develop as a result of shared risk factors such as:

CPAP is a standard treatment for sleep apnea. A CPAP machine delivers a steady stream of air pressure through your nose or mouth while you sleep. This keeps your airway open. Because the force of the air prevents obstruction, it also prevents the pauses in breathing that wake you up.

Studies have shown that CPAP use doesn’t just help treat sleep apnea — it may also slightly lower your daytime blood pressure levels.

If you’ve received a diagnosis of sleep apnea, a healthcare professional may write you a prescription for a CPAP machine. The machine is supplied by specialty service suppliers who work with insurance providers.

Most insurance providers cover CPAP machines as long as you have a prescription from a healthcare professional for these services. Medicare also covers CPAP machines.

After you receive your prescription and your machine, a healthcare professional will teach you how to use the machine. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for cleaning and caring for your device to prevent issues such as pneumonia or other respiratory infections.

Starting CPAP therapy

The first step in getting a CPAP machine is getting a prescription from a healthcare professional.

Once you have a prescription, you can expect some combination of the following steps:

  1. Check with your insurance provideror Medicare to make sure the device is covered.
  2. Find out what supplier or manufacturer is coveredby your insurance plan.
  3. Ask about coverage for accessories such as masks, tubing, and cleaning supplies that you’ll need for your CPAP machine.
  4. Get trained on how to wear your mask and use your machine safely.
  5. Find out how to set up maintenance or delivery of supplies you’ll need for your machine.
  6. Arrange for follow-up visits with a doctoror healthcare professional to discuss the effectiveness of your CPAP therapy.
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CPAP therapy alone often isn’t enough to treat high blood pressure, regardless of which condition you developed first.

CPAP is often sufficient for treating sleep apnea and may lower your blood pressure slightly, but you may need additional treatments. Many different medications can be used to treat high blood pressure. For example:

Lifestyle changes can also be very effective.

These include:

  • eating a healthy diet
  • keeping up a moderate weight
  • regular exercise
  • quitting smoking

Surgeries such as tonsil removal can also help to unblock obstructions that may contribute to your sleep apnea. Talk with a doctor about whether surgery is a safe and realistic option for your particular situation.

Blood pressure changes caused by sleep apnea don’t necessarily stop when you wake up. This is why it’s important to take steps to reduce high blood pressure, even if you use a CPAP machine. You can reduce high blood pressure levels through some combination of lifestyle changes and medication.

Your heart and lungs are closely linked and depend on each other for optimal function.

If you have sleep apnea, talk with a doctor about steps you can take to prevent — or treat — existing problems with high blood pressure. Untreated high blood pressure can lead to a number of complications.

Take care of your health and schedule regular wellness and preventive care appointments to help identify problems with either condition early and potentially avoid more serious complications.