The Real Risks of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea

is a common problem. Many of us have heard the term, but few of us know the symptoms or more importantly the risks of living with sleep apnea. A new study that was recently published reports the real risks of sleep apnea that you should be aware of.

One of the most frightening statistics is that nearly 18 million American’s live with sleep apnea, and most don’t know they are living with a potentially life threatening disease. Sleep apnea occurs when an individual pauses or has extremely shallow breaths during their sleep. Partners may report loud snoring, gasping or snorting during sleep. While this can be bothersome to bed partners it can have long term, even fatal affects.

The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine discovered compelling evidence that there is a link between obstructive sleep apnea and stroke in middle age to older men. Researchers studied 5,422 men and woman over an averaged nine year period. Each participant began with an at home sleep test to determine if apneas (pauses in breathing) were present and the severity of the apneas. Men with moderate to severe apnea were three times more likely to have a stroke then men with mild or no sleep apnea. The findings where slightly different in woman; increased risk of stroke only occurred in patients with severe apnea and was usually compounded with other risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

If this evidence wasn’t striking enough the link between our heart’s reaction at night to the apneas doesn’t cease during the day when the apneas aren’t present. When people have apneas during sleep it causes their heart to pump harder due to a lack of oxygen in the system. This causes undue strain on the heart and other organs. The study showed that patients’ heart became accustomed to pumping harder so that even when awake their heart continues to function erratically. This additional strain on the heart puts the individual at increased risk of stroke.

These findings compound the already alarming data that shows links between sleep apnea and diabetes, day time fatigue (which the National Highway Safety Commission links to thousands of fatal crashes each year), hypertension and other health problems.

If you or a loved one snore, or gasp for breath at night it is vital to see a trained physician to explore the possibility of sleep apnea. It’s hard to fathom that something that happens at night, and may only cause a slight annoyance to a bed partner could have dire consequences if left untreated.