Obstructive sleep apnea is a bothersome and potentially worrying condition. As many as 45% of American adults suffer from chronic, long-term, snoring, however, many see it as a minor issue that is more troublesome for their partner, than for themselves.
Understanding sleep apnea symptoms is an important tool for people to have and unless treated properly, sleep apnea can cause a variety of other negative health conditions.
- High Blood Pressure
Sleep apnea can cause and worsen high blood pressure in several ways. First, sleep apnea occurs when you have long pauses in your breathing. When we have pauses in our breathing, we are unable to get oxygen to our body. Our body needs oxygen to survive and when we have lower levels of this vital nutrient, our blood vessels respond by getting smaller and sending the oxygen we have to the important organs in our body. As the blood vessels get smaller, our blood pressure goes up. This means it is crucial to stop snoring and get proper treatment for sleep apnea. Second, our blood pressure naturally rises when we are under stress. Our body responds to stress by releasing hormones to help combat the stress and these hormones cause our blood pressure to increase. Although not everyone with sleep apnea is aware of it, these frequent pauses in breathing prevent you from entering REM, or deep, sleep. This lack of deep sleep acts a stress on the body and ultimately leads to increase blood pressure.
- Heart Disease and Heart Attack
People with obstructive sleep apnea are more likely to suffer a heart attack or have heart disease. Sleep apnea causes a decrease in oxygen throughout the whole body, due to the collapse of airways and frequent pauses in breathing while sleeping. This means important organs in the body, such as the heart and brain, may be deprived of a vital nutrient. Without oxygen, cells throughout the body die and this can lead to some of the heart muscle dying, also known as a heart attack.
Similar to how sleep apnea can cause an increased risk of a heart attack, it also increases the risk of a stroke. Oxygen is also a vital nutrient in the brain and without proper amounts, brain cells will die. This ultimately results in a stroke.
- Type 2 Diabetes
Obstructive sleep apnea is common among people with type 2 diabetes and some studies suggest that up to 80% of people with type 2 diabetes also have sleep apnea. It’s hard to understand the exact mechanism behind the link between these two conditions but is apparent that obesity increases the risk for both. Also, the body relies on proper amounts of sleep to regulate many kinds of hormones. Insulin is one important hormone, and when sleep is constantly disrupted, our body is unable to process and use insulin properly.
Although obesity can worsen obstructive sleep apnea, some studies suggest sleep apnea can make it difficult to lose weight as well. Furthermore, when your body is always tired and you are not sleeping properly, you release a different hormone that increases craving for high sugar and high carb foods, to give you more energy. This can contribute to extra weight gain and obesity. These can then increase the risk of many conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, stroke and more.
There have been no studies that show the direct correlation between obstructive sleep apnea causing asthma; however, there has been studies that show some benefit to asthma with proper sleep apnea treatment.
- Car Accidents
People who have obstructive sleep apnea are naturally more prone to feeling fatigued and tired throughout the day. Oftentimes, individuals who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea are unaware they are not sleeping properly and feel tired throughout the day until they seek advice from a medical professional. Because of the fatigue, however, it puts them at risk while doing otherwise normal activities. For example, people with sleep apnea are up to five times more likely to have a car accident, compared to normal sleepers. This is because of the increased fatigue and overall decreased reaction time and awareness caused by lack of sleep. This is one of the many reasons it is important to seek medical advice on how to stop snoring and proper treatment.