Can AFib be caused by sleep apnea?

Yes, overtime, sleep apnea is presumed to possibly cause afib.

Do you suffer from a heart arrhythmia known as atrial fibrillation (afib), or are you concerned that you might be experiencing it? Are you wondering if sleep apnea may be the cause of this irregular heartbeat?

Atrial fibrillation, also known as afib, is an abnormal heart rhythm characterized by rapid and irregular beating. It’s estimated that more than 3 million people in the US have been diagnosed with afib. Sleep apnea is another widespread condition and has been linked to several types of cardiovascular diseases including afib.

As more research is done into the relationship between sleep apnea and other health problems, questions arise about whether sleep apnea can lead to or worsen atrial fibrillation. In this article, we will explore the connection between sleep apnea and atrial fibrillation and what it means for your health.

Can afib be caused by sleep apnea?

First, there is no evidence that sleep apnea specifically causes afib. Though, it is presumed that overtime afib can be caused by untreated sleep apnea due to the overload, stress, and damage apneic episodes can cause on the heart night after night.

Studies have shown that people with sleep apnea are at a higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation than people without the condition. In addition, the severity of one’s sleep apnea can be linked to the severity of their afib. This suggests a strong link between the two conditions, even if it is not necessarily causal.

Sleep apnea interferes with your body’s ability to oxygenate itself, leading to low blood oxygen levels. This can cause the heart to beat faster and erratically, leading to afib eventually. Additionally, sleep apnea can also lead to inflammation and an enlarged heart, which may contribute to the development of afib.

It is also important to note that some treatments for sleep apnea have been seen as potential treatments for atrial fibrillation. This suggests that sleep apnea might be, at least in part, a cause of afib.

Overall, there is evidence that sleep apnea may contribute to the development of or worsening of existing atrial fibrillation. If you are suffering from afib and also have been diagnosed with sleep apnea, it’s important to seek medical advice and discuss treatment options.

How are sleep apnea and afib linked?

Sleep apnea and AFib have been linked together in recent research. A 2020 study of 579 patients with atrial fibrillation found that the vast majority (82.7%) had some degree of sleep apnea, with more severe symptoms of AFib being linked to moderate to severe OSA symptoms. Additionally, the research proposed that effective treatment for sleep apnea can lead to better management of heart rhythm and heart health, which may improve the success of conventional treatments for atrial fibrillation.

The gold standard treatment option for sleep apnea is a CPAP (continous positive airway pressure) machine, which forces air into the nasal cavities while the patient sleeps in order to keep the airways open and reduce snoring and other symptoms associated with OSA.

Due to this link between AFib and sleep apnea, researchers now believe that treating OSA can provide significant benefits when managing arrhythmia. Patients with both conditions are more likely to experience a recurrence in their arrhythmia after other forms of treatment like medications or catheter ablation, suggesting that an additional approach focused on controlling and managing OSA may help improve treatment outcomes overall. While more research is required to investigate this potential connection further, these initial findings provide substantial promise in the development of better treatments for AFib.

How common is it to have afib and sleep apnea?

Patients with Atrial Fibrillation are at an alarmingly high risk for having sleep apnea. Studies have shown that between 50-80% of AFib patients also suffer from sleep apnea. By comparison, the normal population has a prevalence rate of 30-60%. This increased risk is likely due to both the overall cardiovascular issues associated with AFib, as well as possible direct effects on the heart caused by having sleep apnea.

Due to these risks, people with AFib should get tested for sleep apnea if they experience any of the common symptoms such as snoring, insomnia or excessive daytime fatigue. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommend that all patients who are at an increased risk for having AFib be regularly screened for sleep apnea. It is important for individuals suffering from both conditions to receive proper diagnosis and treatment in order to reduce their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

How does sleep apnea trigger afib during sleep?

One potential trigger of AFib during sleep is low oxygen due to obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA occurs when the upper airway becomes blocked during sleep, preventing normal breathing and resulting in chronically low oxygen levels. Studies have shown that compared to individuals without OSA, those who suffer from this condition are more likely to experience frequent episodes of arrhythmia or atrial fibrillation – especially during sleep.

Furthermore, arterial stiffening caused by OSA increases the chances of developing AFib independent of other risk factors. Therefore, it is recommend that any patient who is diagnosed with atrial fibrillation should undergo screening for OSA following their initial diagnosis.

Does treating sleep apnea also help afib?

Yes, treating sleep apnea can also help in managing afib. Studies have shown that effective treatment for sleep apnea can lead to better management of heart rhythm and heart health, which may improve the success of conventional treatments for atrial fibrillation. The most popular treatment, as mentioned above, is CPAP.

Additionally, lifestyle modifications such as weight loss can also help improve OSA-related symptoms and thus, may offer some relief from AFib. Therefore, it is important for individuals suffering from AFib to get tested for sleep apnea in order to determine the best possible treatment plan.

How does a sleep apnea machine also treat afib?

A sleep apnea machine helps treat AFib by providing a constant flow of air into the nasal cavities while the patient sleeps. This helps keep the airways open, reduces snoring, and increases oxygen intake which in turn can reduce episodes of arrhythmia or atrial fibrillation. Additionally, CPAP machines can also reduce arterial stiffness, which is a risk factor for developing afib . Therefore, the use of a CPAP machine can help reduce symptoms and improve heart health, which may ultimately lead to better management of AFib.

How to treat sleep apnea naturally without CPAP?

  • Alcohol & Smoking: The first step is eliminating or reducing the consumption of alcohol and tobacco products as they can worsen the already-blocked airways associated with the disorder.
  • Losing Weight: Weight loss is another possible lifestyle modification, as excess fat tissue around the upper airway can worsen sleep apnea by narrowing the airflow through these areas. Aiming for a healthy body weight has been associated with improvement in sleep apnea symptoms.
  • Sleep Position: Finally, avoiding sleeping on your back may help avoid obstruction to airflow throughout the night by allowing it to flow freely instead of constricting it when you lie down on your back. Sleeping on your side, stomach or elevating yourself by propping your back or using an adjustable bed is recommended.

These lifestyle steps combined may greatly improve sleep apnea for many and have been known to eliminate the need for a CPAP machine altogether. Although these steps won’t replace use of an actual CPAP device, they may still provide relief from the disorder without needing one.


In conclusion, it appears that sleep apnea may be a contributing factor to atrial fibrillation in some cases. If you are experiencing symptoms of either condition, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Additionally, if you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea and have concerns about developing AFib, talk to your doctor about whether CPAP therapy may be a helpful option for you.

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