Treating High Blood Pressure and Sleep Apnea While You Sleep

Fatigue, daytime sleepiness and moodiness are all well-known side effects of a bad night's sleep -- but many of my patients don't realize that serious sleep problems can affect not only mood and energy levels, but physical health, as well.
08/11/2015 12:36 pm ET Updated Aug 11, 2016

Fatigue, daytime sleepiness and moodiness are all well-known side effects of a bad night's sleep -- but many of my patients don't realize that serious sleep problems can affect not only mood and energy levels, but physical health, as well.

The American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine estimates that 25 million adults in the U.S. are afflicted with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a disease caused when the tongue and soft palate collapse onto the back of the throat during sleep, blocking the upper airway. Obstructive sleep apnea has a documented tie to hypertension -- or high blood pressure -- and recent research out of France revealed that a popular sleep apnea treatment can help reduce blood pressure levels in patients with hypertension while they sleep.

Published as a research abstract in the Journal of Dental Sleep Medicine, the study monitored 299 patients with sleep apnea, including 77 who also had high blood pressure, over nine months while they used an oral appliance, a "mouth guard-like" device custom fit by a dentist and worn during sleep to maintain an open, unobstructed airway. The researchers analyzed the treatment's effect on patients' oxygen levels, sleep apnea symptoms and overall quality of life. Ultimately, the study found that oral appliance therapy significantly lowered the systolic and diastolic blood pressure of patients with arterial hypertension. In 59 percent of these patients, blood pressure was normalized by using an oral appliance to treat sleep apnea.

This is important news for patients struggling with sleep apnea because oral appliances are often found to be more comfortable and easier to wear every night than the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask traditionally used to treat sleep apnea. A CPAP machine sends a flow of air through tubing and a mask to keep the airway open and patients breathing. While it is highly effective at treating sleep apnea, up to 50 percent of patients do not continue to use CPAP treatment long-term.

If a patient is unwilling or unable to wear their CPAP nightly, they are likely a great candidate for oral appliance therapy. Custom-fit by a dentist who works hand-in-hand with a sleep physician, oral appliances hold the lower jaw forward and keep the airway open. Oral appliances are silent, easy to travel with and proven effective, especially for patients with mild to moderate sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea and high blood pressure are commonly tied together, and it's important for snorers, and their families, to be aware that untreated sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening condition. It can increase the risk for serious health problems from congestive heart failure, stroke, high blood pressure and heart disease to diabetes, obesity, depression and impotence.

There's no better time to get sleep apnea diagnosed and treated. If you or your significant other suffer from sleep apnea or loud and frequent snoring, visit a sleep physician to get tested for sleep apnea, and then go to www.LocalSleepDentist.com to find a dentist locally who offers oral appliance therapy.

B. Gail Demko, DMD, is the immediate past president of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine and is certified by the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine. She serves as the expert advisor to the Food & Drug Administration in the field of oral appliance therapy for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea. Her practice, Sleep Apnea Dentists of New England, is located in Weston, MA.