If your partner is a snorer, you're all too familiar with this irritating habit. But did you know that in addition to be a nighttime nuisance, snoring can also be downright dangerous?

 In fact, research suggests that heavy snoring may raise the risk of cardiovascular disease. Obstructive sleep apnea (in which snoring is often a symptom) is a condition in which a person briefly stops breathing at night. This condition "has deleterious effects on your overall well being, and these patients are at an increased cardiovascular risk overall," says Dr. Leo Pozuelo, associate director of the Bakken Heart Brain Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.

According to a joint statement from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, researchers must work to understand just how cardiac disease and various forms of sleep apnea are related. Sleep apnea is already widespread, and as more and more Americans become obese, it may increase further since obesity is a major cause of sleep apnea, according to the AHA.

"Sleep apnea or sleep disordered breathing is one that we're getting more and more interested in because we see a very strong association with strokes, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular problems," says Dr. Melvyn Rubenfire, director of Preventative Cardiology at the University of Michigan Health System's Cardiovascular Center, as reported in Heart Disease Weekly.

Certain brain chemicals meant to trigger breathing may not be stimulated during sleep apnea, according to Heart Disease Weekly. A person may stop breathing without this stimulation and if breathing stops, oxygen levels drop and both hormones and adrenaline rise. These hormones can lead to heart irregularities and high blood pressure, and can trigger a heart attack, Heart Disease Weekly reports.

Does this mean all snorers should be worried? No, because they don't all suffer from sleep apnea. But, according to Heart Disease Weekly,  people who snore loudly, who are overweight,  who wake without feeling rested, or who have hypertension or diabetes are more prone to having sleep apnea.

"Still, it may be too early to tell if snoring is an independent risk factor for heart disease," says Rubenfire, in an interview in Heart Disease Weekly. "What we do know is if you treat people with obstructive sleep apnea, the risk of cardiovascular disease improves dramatically."

If you or your partner snores loudly, it's important to get an appropriate diagnosis. There are various treatments, including a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure Device that is put on at bedtime. As for light snoring, Rubenfire says the treatment is often as low-tech as turning on your side to sleep.