When left untreated, sleep apnea can become a serious, chronic condition that increases the risk for a wide range of related health problems. Knowing about common sleep apnea risks can empower you to monitor for symptoms in yourself or your partner, and seek treatment as necessary to reduce your risk for the long-term effects of sleep apnea.
If you suspect that you or your partner may have sleep apnea, here’s more about its risks and side effects, and what you can do next to receive a proper diagnosis for your sleep disorder.
Snoring, periods of stopped breathing, insomnia, and hypersomnia are common symptoms and side effects of sleep apnea. Over time, these symptoms can lead to serious problems with your overall health, especially when sleep apnea goes untreated. Below are some of the most common sleep apnea risks and side effects.
Daytime sleepiness is both a symptom and a risk of sleep apnea. Also known as hypersomnia, daytime sleepiness can interfere with your performance at work or school, and make you too tired to fulfill important obligations related to spending time with loved ones, engaging in your favorite activities, and exercising. Daytime sleepiness can also put you at risk for accidents if you fall asleep while driving or operating heavy machinery.
Sleep apnea causes sudden, repeated drops in blood oxygen levels while you sleep. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, this puts undue strain on the heart and cardiovascular system to increase blood pressure and the risk for heart-related problems such as abnormal heart rate, heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. Heart problems are among the most serious long-term effects of sleep apnea due to additional risks of surgery, lifelong intensive treatment, and death.
A study published in Frontiers in Neurology states that the estimated overall prevalence of obstructive sleep apnea in patients with type 2 diabetes is 71%. During episodes of paused breathing during sleep apnea, carbon dioxide levels in the blood increase to cause problems with insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes itself increases the risk of nerve damage, kidney damage, and limb amputation.
Quality sleep is a major contributing factor to maintaining a strong immune system alongside proper nutrition, regular exercise, and effective stress management. Sleep deprivation associated with sleep apnea can weaken and suppress the functioning of the immune system to make you more susceptible to illness, infection, and disease.
Lack of sleep can make you feel irritable and moody and cause problems in your interpersonal relationships and family life. Sleep deprivation also increases the body’s level of the stress hormone cortisol and upsets the balance of all other hormones and neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine that regulate mood. As a result, chronic sleep apnea that goes untreated can eventually lead to the development of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
A study published in the journal Sleep states that people with severe sleep apnea have a three times higher risk of dying due to any cause compared with people who do not have sleep apnea. An estimated 42% of deaths in people with sleep apnea are caused by heart disease or stroke, and the risk of death increases even more when sleep apnea is left untreated. Seeking a proper diagnosis and effective treatment for sleep apnea today may greatly reduce your risk of death.
Untreated sleep apnea side effects can further compromise your health and livelihood. Seeking a proper diagnosis for sleep apnea can bring you one step closer to identifying the root cause of your sleep problems, and to becoming healthier and feeling more lively and energetic. The sooner you confirm whether you have sleep apnea, the sooner you can start reversing and treating health problems related to your condition.
If you suspect that you or your partner may have sleep apnea, and/or are also experiencing one or more of the above risks of sleep apnea, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
Your doctor can perform an evaluation and provide you with a referral to a sleep lab where you can be closely monitored for signs of sleep apnea. Alternately, you may be given or prescribed an at-home sleep study test , which you can perform in the comfort of your own home, and the results will help your doctor diagnose sleep apnea.
© 2021 American Sleep Association.