Anyone with heart disease or sleep apnea needs to know about the other condition. Researchers haven't nailed down all the details on how and why the two are linked. But, it's clear that they are. If you have sleep apnea, you are more likely than others to develop heart disease. And, if you have heart disease, having sleep apnea can make things worse. Here's what you should know. Understanding Sleep Apnea Someone with sleep apnea stops breathing during sleep. These episodes are short, but they happen a lot—sometimes 30 times a night. The person wakes up briefly, gasping for air. Most of the time, there's loud snoring followed by periods of silence when breathing stops for a few seconds. Apnea is the short time when breathing stops. People with sleep apnea often don't know it. Your sleep partner may know, though. Signs that you might have sleep apnea include: Loud snoring Choking or gasping for air during sleep Waking up with a dry mouth Waking up with a headache Being tired or irritable during the day A sleep study is the best way to diagnose sleep apnea. Some people go to a clinic for this; others do it at home. While you sleep, a device will record your blood pressure, oxygen level, eye movements, and heart rate. Your doctor will check the results to decide if you have sleep apnea. How Sleep Apnea Affects Heart Disease Doctors don’t know if sleep apnea causes heart disease. They do know it can make heart disease worse. Heart and circulation problems that have been linked to sleep apnea include high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, sudden death during sleep, and heart rhythm problems. People who have diabetes or are obese are especially prone to sleep apnea. Both of these problems also increase your risk of heart disease. Here's how sleep apnea may affect your body, including your heart: The brain gets warning during sleep that oxygen levels are low. The brain responds by tightening blood vessels. This causes blood pressure to rise. High blood pressure stresses your heart. Stress causes blood sugar levels to rise. Treating Sleep Apnea Can Help Treating sleep apnea can be good for the heart in many ways. First, it may reduce your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. That makes it important to have a sleep study done if you have sleep apnea symptoms. Treating sleep apnea also can help if you already have: High blood pressure: You may see improvement once sleep apnea is treated. Atrial fibrillation: Treating sleep apnea can make it less likely that you will have episodes of irregular heartbeats. Sleep apnea often occurs because weak muscles around the throat let your airway collapse during sleep. To fix that, your doctor might suggest you try: A special mouth guard: This pulls your jaw and tongue forward. It is generally most helpful for people with mild sleep apnea. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP): This is usually the best treatment. You wear a mask or device on your nose and it connects to a CPAP machine. Air pressure forces the airway to stay open while you sleep. Surgery: This involves removing flabby tissue inside the throat. Surgery usually is used only when other treatments have not worked.