Why Sleep Apnea is a Serious Condition

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The latest research shows that having sleep apnea significantly increases the risk of death. Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that affects at least 18 million Americans. In fact, sleep apnea is also associated with nearly double the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, as well as early death in men, particularly middle-aged and older men. An obstructed airway causes sleep apnea, which results in cessations in breathing during sleep. This can occur hundreds of times each night. Sleep apnea often results in lowered oxygen levels in the blood, and if untreated, can lead to poor sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, and increased car accidents. Mounting research reveals it may lead to far worse consequences as well.

Even those with mild to moderate sleep apnea may see an increase of up to 17% in their risk of death. A long and large study conducted at Johns Hopkins University and published this year showed results that have real meaning for the average person. Over a period of 10 years, the researchers included more than 6,400 men and women between the ages of 40 and 70. Most of the participants snored, which is the main symptom of sleep apnea. The researchers monitored their sleep patterns as well as their breathing, heart rhythms, and brain activity while sleeping. The results revealed that about half had moderate to severe sleep apnea.

Next, the researchers tracked those with sleep apnea over the next eight to ten years, monitoring and recording the incidence of sickness and death. The main illnesses they found were high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease. They made an incredible discovery: those who experienced just 11 minutes of severe sleep apnea per night, in which blood oxygen levels dropped to below 90% of normal, nearly doubled the risk of death among men. The researchers were not able to conclude the same for women, since the study included so few women with severe sleep apnea. In general, sleep apnea affects men more than women.

The researchers indicated that these results are serious and require attention by doctors as well as patients. "With such mounting evidence indicating the range of clinical effects of sleep apnea, awareness amongst health care professionals and the general community needs to increase," said study lead author Dr. Naresh Punjabi, an associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Anyone with the main symptoms of sleep apnea, including loud snoring, daytime fatigue, and difficulty concentrating should discuss their symptoms with a doctor. Lifestyle changes such as losing weight may help the problem. If you have a more serious case of sleep apnea, there is effective therapy, including Continuous Positive Airway Pressure devices that act as a sort of oxygen mask during sleep. According to accumulating evidence, not only can treating sleep apnea improve your quality of life, but it may save it as well.