Sleep apnea can be a disturbing disorder, which can even result in death. High blood pressure leads to multiple health problems, not the least of which is heart and circulatory conditions requiring careful medication and monitoring lest they, too, lead to death.

But what do sleep apnea and blood pressure have in common? More than we previously realized, according to a new study released by the Cleveland Clinic.

High Risk Patients

The new study reveals that those who have severe sleep apnea may be at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure; and not only that, but high blood pressure that resists drug treatments.

In the study, patients who suffer from moderate to severe sleep apnea were monitored for outcomes related to heart disease or risk of heart disease. These patients had all been prescribed a minimum of three medications for high blood pressure.

Startling Results

The results of the study were staggering: nearly 60% of those patients with severe sleep apnea were found to have high blood pressure that was resistant to medication. This is in direct opposition to those with moderate apnea who showed a less than 30% instance of drug-resistant high blood pressure.

Correlation, Not Causation

According to Dr. Harneet Walia, the study’s lead author, this study cannot prove that the sleep apnea is the direct cause of the high blood pressure. The findings do suggest that severe instances of sleep apnea are a contributing factor in blood pressure resistant to medication treatments, even when the drug therapy is aggressive.

There is evidence that those patients who are taking multiple medications for high blood pressure have an especially high vulnerability for a higher risk of cardiovascular problems.


When combined with the risk of obstructive sleep apnea, this creates an important warning for blood pressure patients. Walia warns that these treatment-resistant blood control conditions put patients at a very high risk for cardiovascular problems, and Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine adds that the existence of such conditions may be an indicator of the presence of severe obstructive sleep apnea.

Incredible Statistics

The statistics regarding hypertension and sleep apnea are astounding. It is currently estimated that over 33% of those patients with high blood pressure, and nearly 80% of those whose hypertension is resistant to drug treatment are suffering from severe obstructive sleep apnea. Anyone with high blood pressure should contact their family doctor to look into the possibility of sleep apnea, the study warns.

Epidemic Conditions

It is currently estimated that well over 35 million Americans suffering from high blood pressure are not taking the appropriate actions to keep it under control, or are suffering from a condition where normal or aggressive treatments are not as effective as they should be. This is an epidemic that needs to be brought under control. While the current study is not conclusive as far as proving causation between sleep apnea and high blood pressure, the correlation is certainly cause for concern.

By Ramie A Tritt, MD, President, Atlanta ENT