Untreated sleep apnea is a dangerous condition. It can lead to poor health, decrease your quality of life, increase your medical expenses, and even shorten your lifespan. It can have a significant impact because sleep affects your life in many ways. Understanding the dangers of sleep apnea can help you see the importance of treatment. 

At the Michigan Head & Neck Institute, our sleep dentists can help you get treatment that can reduce or eliminate the risks associated with sleep apnea.

Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea

Before we get into the dangers of sleep apnea, let’s take a moment to consider who is most impacted by these dangers–the people who are most likely to get sleep apnea. 

The most common form of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea. The majority of people with obstructive sleep apnea are:

  • Male
  • Older
  • Working sedentary occupations or having inactive lifestyles

The majority of sleep apnea sufferers are men. Compared to premenopausal women, men are up to four times more likely to experience obstructive sleep apnea. 

The risk of sleep apnea increases with age as the muscles that hold the airway open tend to weaken. The highest risk of sleep apnea occurs after 60 years of age. Women’s sleep apnea risk increases significantly during menopause. Menopausal women have essentially the same sleep apnea risk as men their age. 

Being generally active helps protect you against obstructive sleep apnea. If you work a job that involves sitting all day or if you have an inactive lifestyle, you are more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea.

Dangers of Untreated Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can cause a wide range of symptoms, affecting almost every aspect of your health and life. The dangers that science has linked to sleep apnea include:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Heart disease
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Weight gain
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Traffic and workplace accidents

The result of all these complications can be expensive medical care. On average, people with undiagnosed sleep apnea pay about $2500 more for medical care each year compared to people of the same age, weight, and gender without sleep apnea. 

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

When your brain experiences a lack of oxygen, it asks the heart to beat harder and faster, leading to chronic high blood pressure over time. If you have sleep apnea, blood pressure medications are unlikely to help the condition. In fact, drug-resistant hypertension is often considered a characteristic symptom of sleep apnea.

Heart Disease

The chronic stress on your heart can lead to many types of heart disease. It has been very strongly linked to numerous arrhythmias–irregular heartbeats. Over time, these arrhythmias can increase your risk of heart failure. In addition, sleep apnea is related to coronary arterial disease (CAD), sometimes through snoring

Heart Failure

Heart failure occurs when your heart cannot pump enough blood to sustain your body. Several types of heart failure are linked to sleep apnea, including congestive heart failure and pulmonary hypertension, where the heart can’t pump enough blood to the lungs. 

Stroke

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain gets cut off. The most common type of stroke is ischemic stroke, which occurs when a deposit in large arteries breaks off and travels to the narrow blood vessels of the brain, where it causes a blockage. Sleep apnea increases the amount of deposits in your arteries, and elevated blood pressure can break them off and take them to the brain. 

Weight Gain

Weight gain has a reciprocal relationship with sleep apnea. Weight gain can make your airways more likely to close during sleep, and apneic episodes can make you more likely to gain weight. Some people attribute many of the health effects of sleep apnea to obesity, which is common in sleep apnea. 

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes, in which your body doesn’t make enough insulin, making it difficult to regulate blood sugar, is commonly associated with obesity and sleep apnea. Data on whether sleep apnea is an independent risk factor for type 2 diabetes is mixed, but it does make regulating the condition more difficult. 

Daytime Sleepiness

Daytime sleepiness is one of the most characteristic symptoms of sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea are more likely to doze off at work, while driving, or during any period of low activity. 

Cognitive Difficulties

Along with daytime sleepiness, people with sleep apnea tend to have difficulty concentrating, remembering important information, or processing information. This is very similar to what people describe as “brain fog,” but sleep apnea is linked to a higher risk of early-onset dementia. 

Traffic and Workplace Accidents

Because they are sleepy during the day and have difficulty concentrating, people with sleep apnea are more likely to get into traffic and workplace accidents. For example, drivers with sleep apnea are five times more likely to be involved in a serious or deadly car accident.

Treatment Reduces Risk

Although there are many dangers associated with sleep apnea, treatment reduces your risks. If you’ve been avoiding treatment because you think you need CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), we have a more comfortable, convenient alternative. 

Please call (586) 573-0438 or use our online form today to request an appointment at the Michigan Head & Neck Institute, serving the Detroit area, from our office in Warren, MI.