Sleep apnea is defined as the weakening of air passages during sleep which results in several seconds of air blockage at repeated episodes during the course of a night’s sleep. The interior of the air passages weaken as the result of throat muscles that relax more than normal during sleep which compromises breathing during sleep.
When your breathing is reduced the oxygen that circulates in the blood is reduced which causes your heart to work harder. The reduction in oxygen supply also affects other organs in your body by causing undue stress on the organs that depend upon an adequate supply of oxygen and restful sleep to function properly. When the oxygen is reduced this increases stress on the organs which in turn causes other related health problems.
When you have multiple episodes of apnea during the night this results in elevated blood pressure this can result in a wide variety of cardiovascular problems which include irregular heart beat, heart disease, angina, and other disorders related to the heart.
Modern medical research has also discovered links between sleep apnea and atherosclerosis. Sleep apnea causes reduced blood oxygen levels which can also contribute to the increase in inflammatory cells and chemicals in the blood stream. When inflammation exists in the blood stream it leads to obstruction in the arteries which is diagnosed as atherosclerosis.
Sleep apnea can also be a major contributor to hypertension or high blood pressure caused by increased levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine which are substances that are increased by the effects of sleep apnea and promote inflammation of the blood vessels around the heart. As a result, the effects can lead to angina, heart attack, and heart failure.
Other Health Risks of Undiagnosed Sleep Apnea Include:
If sleep apnea is left untreated or undiagnosed there are other health risks that can result when a sleep disorder is allowed to get out of hand. Some of the health problems can include:
- Stroke: Since one of the symptoms of sleep apnea involves a drop in blood oxygen levels this problem can lead to blood clots which are the leading cause of a stroke.
- High Blood Pressure: Sudden reduction in blood oxygen levels that result from breathing blockage during sleep apnea can also lead to hypertension. If the fluctuation in blood oxygen is allowed to go on for an extended period of time, the result is high blood pressure which in turn causes additional health problems.
- Depression: Although depression is not a common side effect of undiagnosed sleep apnea it has been known to occur, especially if sleep apnea has gone untreated for any extended period of time. Depression can result from sleep disruption, low blood oxygen levels, and other factors that come into play with sleep apnea.
- Accidents: Ongoing episodes of sleep apnea cause daytime drowsiness which means the person will fall asleep at inappropriate times of the day including while driving or operating machinery. This places the person with sleep apnea at risk of injury as well as other individuals on the road or in the workplace.
- Obesity: After a long period of suffering from sleep apnea episodes this causes you to become fatigued to the point where you do not feel like doing anything that involves physical activity. Obesity can exacerbate sleep apnea and cause the symptoms to become worse. If the disorder is undiagnosed this further increases the risks of the symptoms becoming more severe.
If some of these symptoms sound familiar to you it may be worth your while to undergo a few tests and a sleep study to determine if sleep apnea is playing a role in the way you feel during the daytime. Even if it turns out that sleep apnea is not a factor, at least you will be able to rule it out as a possibility so you can move on to other tests that will help to identify any other health conditions you may have.
If you think another family member is suffering from sleep apnea try to encourage them to see your health care provider to undergo a sleep study and other necessary tests. If you capture the sleep apnea early this will prevent other health risks and help your family member to live a more energetic and fulfilled life.