Investigating the link between sleep apnea and high blood pressure


Abe-CUNNINGHAM-&--Steve-MIFFLIN-WEB

When people with sleep apnea stop breathing at night, it’s no surprise that their blood pressure goes up. But what’s less well known is that it stays that way, long after one’s breathing returns to normal.

Researchers at UNT Health Science Center want to figure out why and hope that discovery will lead to better ways to treat the disorder that affects 18 million people.

With the help of a $9.4 million grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, Steve Mifflin, PhD, Chairman of Integrative Physiology and Anatomy, and Tom Cunningham, PhD, Professor of Integrative Physiology and Anatomy, are studying the relationship between breathing disturbances and hypertension.

Frequent sleep disturbances are a hallmark of the disorder, which can cause someone to stop breathing as often as 120 times per hour.

“If you stop breathing, your blood pressure is going to go up, but it typically comes down when you start breathing again,” Dr. Cunningham said. “In people who have sleep apnea, their blood pressure remains increased 24 hours a day.”

The research will explore how sleep apnea results in hypertension even when the patients are awake and breathing normally, Dr. Mifflin said.

“We are looking at what mechanism in the brain causes blood pressure to remain elevated throughout the day,” he said.

Hypertension associated with sleep apnea puts an individual at a high risk for heart attack, stroke, kidney disease and other health issues. Lowering the blood pressure even a small amount can be very beneficial, Dr. Cunningham said. Studies show that lowering blood pressure in hypertensive patients by just 6 mmHG can reduce someone’s chances of having a stroke by 30 percent.

A Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine is the most effective treatment for sleep apnea, but more than half of CPAP users stop treatment, often because of side effects such as dry mouth, stomach bloating and feelings of confinement from the mask.

“What we are hoping to do is come up with some alternative therapeutic approaches to provide more treatment options,” Dr. Mifflin said.

Namus Fc
A last chance for families with missing loved ones

By Jeff Carlton   The databases of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) contain files on more than 1,000 active missing person cases in Texas and about 14,000 nationwide – each one a tragedy for the families involved. “I’m not sure we can help a family fin...Read more

Apr 18, 2018

Rita Fc
Professor honored for outstanding contributions to field of biomedical engineering

By Alex Branch   Rita Patterson, PhD, a UNT Health Science Center Professor, has been inducted into the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering College of Fellows, one of the highest professional distinctions for medical and biological engineers. Dr. Patterson was rec...Read more

Apr 16, 2018

Vint Fc
‘All I needed was a chance’

By Raul Vintimilla, Department of Pharmacology and Neuroscience   I had earned my medical degree and finished a three-year hospital residency in Cuenca, Ecuador when I decided to move my family to the United States. I had discovered during my training that clinical care was not my pass...Read more

Apr 11, 2018

Brandy S Fc
Innovative educator receives “40 under 40” award

By Alex Branch   Brandy Schwarz, DPT, is an educator, mentor and innovator. The UNT Health Science Center Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy adopts all three roles as she prepares students to become health care providers of the future. The Fort Worth Business Press will honor D...Read more

Apr 10, 2018