One of the many things that can cause high blood pressure is Obstructive Sleep Apnea. OSA decreases oxygen in your body while you’re sleeping, which can lead to surges in both your systolic and diastolic blood pressure. These surges in blood pressure put stress on the heart and the arteries. For many people with OSA, this increase in blood pressure will stick around during the day, even when they’re breathing normally!
There are numerous things that can cause OSA. Some of them are in our control, some aren’t. Overweight and obesity as defined by BMI (body mass index) are the strongest risk factors for OSA, as more than 50% of people with OSA are overweight or obese. Luckily, they are both factors that are in our control.
BMI is a numerical value of our weight (in kilograms) as it relates to our height (in meters squared) and it is used to define underweight, normal weight, overweight and obesity:
- Underweight: Less than 18.5
- Healthy weight: 18.5-24.9
- Overweight: 25-29.9
- Obese: 30 or higher
If you'd like to take a second to calculate your BMI, you can do so here.
Waist circumference and neck circumference are risk factors as well. A waist circumference of 41 inches or more for men and 39 inches or more for women, and/or a neck circumference of 17 inches or more for men and 16 inches or more for women, can increase risk. But the good news is that there is a way to lower your BMI, waist circumference, and neck circumference all at once: lose weight.
Weight gain and OSA have a chicken and egg relationship. Being obese or overweight can cause OSA, as the excess weight (particularly around our abdomen and neck) literally puts pressure on our upper airways, contributing to OSA. In turn, the interrupted sleep from OSA can change our insulin resistance and production of hunger/fullness signaling hormones, which can contribute to obesity. This can cause a “vicious cycle” of increasingly unhealthy sleep patterns and consistent weight gain.
What are signs that you might have OSA?
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Loud snoring
- Observed episodes of stopped breathing during sleep
- Abrupt awakenings accompanied by gasping or choking
- Awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat
- Morning headache
- Difficulty concentrating during the day
- Experiencing mood changes, such as depression or irritability
- High blood pressure
- Nighttime sweating
- Decreased libido
If you experience any of these symptoms, please speak with your doctor. Treatment can decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease (including high blood pressure) and diabetes.
What do OSA and obesity have in common? They’re both potential causes of high blood pressure.
Remember that at the beginning of this Circulatory I said that obesity is one of the factors that causes OSA that we can control. Obesity is also one of the factors that causes high blood pressure that we can control, as it causes it both independently and as a byproduct of OSA.
Talking about obesity and how it pertains to ourselves can sometimes overwhelm us. Please remember: Small changes. One step at a time. And if you need some more advice, take another look at a previous Circulatory installment, “The Power of Tiny Habits”.
Here’s to your health!