There is much evidence to propose that sleep apnea is one of the most common life-damaging diseases. It affects nearly 22 million Americans, with most cases remaining undiagnosed. Sleep apnea has lately been linked to several chronic illnesses and even sudden death.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea, usually accompanied by loud snoring, is a common sleep disorder that causes frequent breathing pauses in your sleep. This is triggered either by obstruction of the air-passage or because the brain fails to prompt a breath. As a result, the oxygen level drops, the carbon dioxide level increases, the blood pressure, heart rate, and hormones like cortisol rise sharply, and the body reawakens to breathe.
Sleep apnea is primarily categorized as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea (CSA), with the former being very common.
- Obstructive sleep apnea or OSA: the more common type that happens when your throat muscles relax
- Central sleep apnea or CSA: which occurs when your brain fails to send the right signals to the muscles that regulate breathing
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome also called treatment-emergent CSA: which occurs when a person suffers from both central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea.
What Causes Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs due to excessive contraction of the throat during your sleep. It causes frequently paused breathing, throughout the night. This happens because the throat or airway collapses and stops the air from entering your lungs. This can lead to disrupting sleep patterns in patients, causing excessive sleepiness or tiredness during the day.
Why Sleep Apnea Is Considered Fatal
Sleep apnea is hardly ever the exact reason for death, but it can lead to other fatal medical conditions. People with untreated sleep apnea stand a greater risk of having high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, and more.
As sleep apnea is linked to severe medical disorders and risky conditions, scientists claim that there may be a correlation between sleep apnea and premature death. Sleep apnea is usually treated with lifestyle modifications including healthy eating habits, weight loss, workout, and certain breathing devices.
What Are Potential Consequences of Untreated Sleep Apnea?
The more severe the sleep apnea condition, the higher the chances of either a heart attack or death. In the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort follow-up published in Sleep in 2008, heart disease accounted for 42 percent mortalities in people with acute sleep apnea. Acute or severe, in clinical terms, refers to an apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) score of 20 or above respiratory events per hour. Also, the cardiac-related death risk was more than 5 times in cases of people with untreated severe sleep apnea than with those without sleep apnea.
According to another research finding, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2005:
- People suffering from sleep apnea are more susceptible to die in their sleep because of sudden cardiac events.
- Most people who don’t have sleep apnea but die of heart attacks, undergo these events during the day.
- Depleted blood-oxygen levels as well as increased carbon dioxide levels in the blood, lead to a rise in blood pressure, the oxidative pressure to the walls of the heart, and disorders to the heart’s electrical rhythms.
How Sleep Apnea Can Hurt Your Heart
Sleep apnea disturbs circadian rhythms, interferes with body and brain chemistry, disrupts cardiac and respiratory function, elevates blood pressure, and accelerates the heart rate. When allowed to persist untreated it will lead to a higher death rate in combination with other factors. The potential outcomes of untreated sleep apnea are:
- People with sleep apnea are more likely to suffer a heart attack (Sleep Health Heart Study results, 2001, American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine)
- People with sleep apnea have a 2 to 3 times greater risk for developing a stroke (Sleep Health Heart Study results, 2010, American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine)
- People with sleep apnea are more than 3 times vulnerable to premature death (18-year follow-up of the Wisconsin Sleep Cohort, 2008, Sleep)
- People who’ve had sleep apnea for up to 5 years have a 30 percent increase in their vulnerability to developing a heart attack or dying, according to research conducted at Yale University.
How Is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?
A sleep specialist doctor will provide you with a comprehensive sleep evaluation. This may involve a sleep study to examine the factors such as your heart rate, airflow and levels of oxygen in the blood to determine the presence of sleep apnea disorder. The sleep specialist will interpret the data from your sleep study to make a diagnosis.
How is Sleep Apnea Treated?
Your sleep doctor will recommend the most suitable treatment options for you, after an initial consultation and the required tests.
Sleep apnea treatment options:
- Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy,
- Oral appliance therapy,
- Lifestyle changes:
- Lose weight
- Avoid alcohol
- Quit smoking
- Try a comfortable sleeping position
Oral appliance therapy is considered an effective sleep apnea treatment to cure snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. An oral device, resembling a sports mouth guard, is worn at night time to help keep an open upper airway.
Many patients prefer an oral sleep apnea appliance over a CPAP mask because it’s comfortable and easy to handle. Learn more by scheduling a consultation with a sleep apnea doctor near you.
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