At a basic level, most medical experts agree that there is a connection between sleep apnea and blood pressure. In its definition of sleep apnea, the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (a division of the National Institutes of Health) states that untreated sleep apnea can “increase the risk of high blood pressure,” as well as heart attack, stroke and obesity.1
The Mayo Clinic also cites high blood pressure as a potential complication of sleep apnea, stating that “sudden drops in blood oxygen levels that occur during sleep apnea increase blood pressure and strain the cardiovascular system.” In the same article, the clinic warns that “if you have obstructive sleep apnea, your risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) is greater than if you don’t,” and the “more severe your sleep apnea, the greater the risk of high blood pressure.”2
The UK’s National Health Service offers similar warnings about the link between sleep apnea and blood pressure. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) “is associated with high blood pressure,” the agency states on its website, adding that it’s “uncertain whether people develop hypertension as a direct response to OSA, or whether it is the result of an underlying cause of OSA, such as obesity.”3
Sleep apnea and blood pressure: The research
These claims that high blood pressure and sleep apnea are often found together are supported by a wide variety of medical studies. A study published in American Family Physician in 2002 is typical: “About one half of patients who have essential hypertension (hypertension without a known cause) have obstructive sleep apnea, and about one half of patients who have obstructive sleep apnea have essential hypertension.”4
A 2009 study published in the journal Hypertension Research also found that OSA “increases both daytime and night-time ambulatory blood pressures.” That study concluded that understanding the characteristics of a patient’s sleep apnea “is essentially important” to achieve control over high blood pressure.5
The bottom line? People with sleep apnea should also make sure to discuss high blood pressure concerns with their doctor.