Does Rheumatoid Arthritis Increase the Risk of Sleep Apnea?

September 3, 2023
Woman in bed, struggling with aches and pains

Rheumatoid arthritis can cause persistent pain and interfere with your quality of life. Sadly, it might also interfere with your nighttime rest. Does rheumatoid arthritis increase the risk of sleep apnea? If you are struggling to get the rejuvenating sleep you need, what steps can you take to address the situation? This blog post explains.

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Sleep Apnea Have a Strong Correlation

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that causes a person’s body to attack its own tissues. It has a great impact on joint health. Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes repeated pauses in breathing throughout the night. It commonly occurs in the form of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is the result of tissues blocking the upper airway.

A 2016 study found that the rate of sleep apnea was 75% higher in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) than in those without the condition. Separate research, published in 2009, found a 50% higher rate of OSA in individuals with RA, as well as significantly higher rates of fatigue.

The link between these conditions should not be ignored, especially since cardiovascular disease is more common among both individuals with OSA and those with RA when compared to the general population. Your heart health may be at stake!

What Is the Reason for the Connection?

Researchers are not sure why there appears to be a link between RA and OSA. However, there are several possible explanations:

  • People with RA may have degradation in their temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which plays an important role in airway function.
  • RA can cause narrowing of the spaces between cervical vertebrae, which may worsen the severity of sleep apnea.
  • RA increases inflammatory cytokines (cells that send signals to other cells) throughout the body, which may interfere with sleep regulation.
  • Many people with RA are overweight or obese, and carrying excess weight is a strong risk factor for OSA.

What Can You Do?

If you have RA and are concerned about the quality of your sleep, talk to your doctor. They might refer you for a sleep test, which can reveal whether you have sleep apnea and how severe the problem is. From there, you can explore your treatment options.

Fortunately, OSA is usually easy to treat. Many patients have found relief by using a custom oral appliance from a dentist. It can gently reposition the lower jaw to allow for uninterrupted breathing.

RA and OSA may be related! Monitor the quality of your sleep so you can seek professional care if necessary.

Meet the Sleep Apnea Expert

Dr. Kenneth Mogell has spent more than 10 years striving to help patients find freedom from obstructive sleep apnea via oral appliance therapy. If you have RA or other risk factors for a sleep disorder, he and our team would be happy to learn about your circumstances and recommend your next steps. Use our website to contact any of our locations, or call our Vero Beach office at 772-882-6800.