Long Term Effects of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea refers to repeated episodes of complete or partial blockage of the upper airways while you are sleeping. When the airways get blocked, your body and the muscles of your diaphragm and chest, work harder to pull air into your lungs.  Sleep apnea is characterized by a stopping and starting of breathing.  And this stop, start can happen up to 30 times or sometimes even more per hour. For most suffering from sleep apnea, breathing stops when the airway collapses, blocking the flow of air to and from the lungs.  This disorder is potentially serious, and can interfere with sound sleep.

What are the symptoms?

  • Daytime sleepiness or fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating, forgetfulness depression
  • Snoring
  • Difficulty getting up in the mornings,
  • Sudden awakening with a sensation of gasping or choking

Who gets sleep apnea?

More than 12 million people in the United States have sleep apnea, more than half of which are overweight.  Sleep apnea is more common in those who have thick, or fat, necks, because the extra tissue in the area can result in obstruction of the airway.  Since sleep apnea can cause sleep deprivation, the disrupted sleep pattern can slow metabolism and worsen weight gain.  Other risk factors for the disease also include smoking and high blood pressure.

How is it diagnosed?

The most definitive test for sleep apnea is called a nocturnal polysomnogram.  This is a test were you sleep in a lab and your body functions are monitored.  In this setting the number of times your breathing was impaired can be recorded and the severity of sleep apnea can be determined.

What are the long term effects of sleep apnea?

Sleep deprivation caused by sleep apnea places you at an increased risk of job-related injuries, car accidents, heart attacks and strokes.  There is also an increased risk for death from cardiovascular disease in women with sleep apnea.  Furthermore, sleep apnea is associated with depression, reduced quality of life, cardiovascular disease, heart disease, strokes, hypertension and cardiovascular mortality.  That’s quite a long list, which is why if you do experience some of the symptoms, like snoring loudly or feeling tired even after a full night's sleep, you should bring it to the attention of a medical professional.

How do you treat sleep apnea?

Treatment options depend on the severity of disease and include conservative, mechanical, and surgical treatments.

    • Conservative treatments
      • Weight loss
      • Avoid alcohol, which makes the airway more likely to collapse during sleep
      • Changing your sleeping position
    • Mechanical
      • Continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP
      • Mouth pieces—Mandibular advancement devices
    • Surgery