Health Risks associated with Obstructive Sleep Apnea

The main symptom that most people complain about regarding obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is constant fatigue from lack of restful sleep. Bed partners may also complain about loud and disruptive snoring.

Besides fatigue and snoring, there are other health consequences associated with OSA that you should be aware of so that you understand that it is important to maintain proper treatment of your OSA.

Having obstructed sleep apnea means that you actually stop breathing multiple times during the night. The lack of oxygen to your brain jolts your body awake briefly so you can take the necessary breath and then fall back to sleep. This apneic episode has very serious health ramifications. Your body is being oxygen starved several times throughout the night, usually between 5 – 15 times per hour!

A sleep pattern like this means you’re never actually achieving rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the essential sleep stage that help recharge your body’s internal battery. The next day, your body has to compensate for its lack of rest, resulting in fatigue and poor productivity. During the day your concentration is easily broken and you suffer from daytime sleepiness.

You may realize that your productivity suffers at work, but what you may not realize is what is going on inside your body. Specifically, when your airway collapses due to negative pressure from the expansion of the lungs (you stop breathing for several seconds) your body experiences a drastic drop in oxygen saturation, from 95% to as low as 50%. This can lead to significant health problems.

Here’s a list of the most common concerns that untreated sleep apnea can cause:

Car Accidents – a deadly side effect of daytime sleepiness, people with untreated OSA are 5 times more likely to fall asleep behind the wheel.

Heart Disease/Stroke – the low oxygen levels caused by obstructed sleep apnea stress the body, making sufferers of OSA more likely to have a heart attack or die in the middle of the night. The oxygen disruption makes it hard for your brain to regulate the flow of blood to arteries and to the brain itself.

High Blood Pressure – frequent wakings during the night cause hormonal systems to kick into hyper-drive, which can result in a dangerous elevation in blood pressure.

Weight Gain – obstructive sleep apnea goes hand-in-hand with obesity because fatty deposits in the neck block adequate breathing during sleep. Excessive weight gain increases your risk of OSA. In addition, the lack of oxygen impairs the endocrine system, releasing the hormone ghrelin which makes you crave carbohydrates and sweets, thereby adding to weight gain. This can result in a vicious cycle of lack of sleep, weight gain and then more apneic episodes.

Type 2 Diabetes – since Type 2 Diabetes is often brought on by obesity, up to 80% of diabetics also suffer from some form of obstructed sleep apnea. Research shows that sleep deprivation can be a contributing factor to insulin resistance, which is the body’s early warning system indicating susceptibility to Type 2 Diabetes.

Other serious health concerns that can be linked to OSA:

  • Depression
  • Gastric reflux
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle pain
  • Loss of short term memory
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Intellectual deterioration
  • Inefficient metabolism
  • Severe anxiety
  • Memory and concentration impairment
  • Mood swings
  • Impotence

It’s clear that sleep apnea is a serious concern but there are effective treatments. Although OSA can create severe health impairments – treatment can prevent most of these risks. It is even possible to cut down on blood pressure medication because getting adequate rest can lower blood pressure. Treatment is crucial. Often times that means using CPAP therapy, a machine that sits on your night table and applies positive airway pressure to the respiratory system to prevent apnea episodes. CPAP therapy has proven to be very effective in the treatment of OSA

Make sure to stay compliant with your OSA treatment to maintain proper rest and to mitigate the other health risks associated with OSA.