What are the consequences and risks of sleep apnea?
SLEEP APNEA AND HEALTH RISKS:
There is strong evidence that people with moderate to severe sleep apnea die prematurely because they are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than someone without sleep apnea. During an apneic episode, the heartbeat becomes irregular and the blood pressure rises. This can lead to daytime high blood pressure (hypertension)(1).
If you are overweight and have sleep apnea, the likelihood that you will develop diabetes and have high cholesterol in the future increases significantly. These are also major risk factors for heart attacks and strokes.(1)
Sleep apnea and everyday risks:
The consequences of sleep apnea on daily life may include excessive fatigue, sleepiness (potentially causing car accidents) and relationship problems.
For many, the first sign that they have sleep apnea is when a partner complains about their snoring. Apneic episodes are reported by about 75% of bed partners.(2) The bed partner notices the patient's snoring, gasping or choking and therefore has disrupted sleep too. They usually stay awake because of their own concern about the patient's breathing pauses or other abnormal breathing.(1) This lack of sleep puts a strain on the relationship(1) and has a significant impact on overall quality of life.
But the consequences of sleep apnea will mainly impact the patient itself. After a restless night, he or she may feel tired in the morning and struggle to stay awake as the day goes on, especially in the afternoon.(1) Daytime sleepiness is the most common complaint.(2) This can result in poor concentration, slow reflexes, domestic accidents and cognitive impairment.
Sleep apnea causes car accidents too. People with sleep apnea are at least six times more likely to have an accident than others.(3) The sleep deprivation that accompanies sleep apnea leads to fatigue and inattention, which can cause a driver to fall asleep behind the wheel. For those whose job involves operating machinery or transport, the risk of car accidents caused by drowsy driving becomes extremely high.(1)
(1) Obstructive sleep apnoea, Sleep Health Foundation, 2011
(2) Sleep breathing disorders – European Respiratory Society White Book (chapter 23)
(3) Terán-Santos J., Jiménez-Gómez A., & Cordero-Guevara, J. (1999). The association between sleep apnea and the risk of traffic accidents. N Engl J Med., 340(11), 881-3.