Sleep Apnea may be more Dangerous than you Think

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Sleep Apnea may be more Dangerous than you Think

Most people who visit a sleep doctor for sleep apnea assume that they’re being treated for bad sleep, snoring or perhaps fatigue during the day. A little research into the condition will show that sleep apnea is closely associated with common lifestyle illnesses like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. What many of us don’t know is that sleep apnea is actually more dangerous than we think, and it has a close association with several other serious medical conditions.

During sleep apnea, sufficient air doesn’t enter the lungs, leading to a drop in oxygen level in the blood and an increase in the level of carbon dioxide. This in turn stresses the heart and results in an increase in the release of hormones and compounds which can weaken immunity and cause inflammation. Several episodes like this can cause permanent injury to the body’s cells and organs, and can manifest in all kinds of illnesses. Here is a look at different medical conditions that are linked with sleep apnea.

1. Pneumonia

Sleep apnea can increase a person’s chances of getting pneumonia, with the likelihood increasing with the severity of the apnea. An 11-year study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that patients with sleep apnea had a 1.2 fold chance of getting pneumonia compared to those who didn’t have the condition. The study’s conclusion was that sleep apnea was an ‘independent risk’ for pneumonia.

2. Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease where bones lose tissue and become thin and brittle. The frequent drops in blood oxygen level may be associated with a weakening of the skeletal system. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism shows that people with sleep apnea are twice as likely to suffer from osteoporosis compared to those without apnea.

3. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

GERD is also known as acid reflux and it has a strong correlation with obstructive sleep apnea, as a study in the J Neurogastroenterol Motil journal finds. When the airway is blocked, a vacuum is created in the throat which causes a suction of stomach juices, worsening the obstruction. Nearly half of sleep apnea patients reportedly suffer from some kind of acid reflux.

4. Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is a sudden rise in blood pressure during pregnancy, accompanied by swelling and is a serious condition that requires emergency care. A study conducted by Dr. Judette Louis at the University of South Florida finds that 42% of women with sleep apnea also had preeclampsia and 46% of their babies needed to be admitted to the NICU.

5. Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Several studies are now proving the connection between sleep apnea and liver disease. A 2014 study published in Chest Journal reported that two thirds of the participants who had sleep apnea also had fatty liver, likely to have resulted from inflammation. The Journal of Pediatrics has also found a connection between fatty liver disease and sleep apnea in children.

6. Erectile Dysfunction

The altered production of hormones during obstructive sleep apnea can cause sexual dysfunction, especially in men. A study at Mount Sinai Medical Centre, New York, found that 63% of ED patients are also suffering from sleep apnea. They also found that treatment of sleep apnea with CPAP improved the symptoms of erectile dysfunction.

7. Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome includes several conditions that pose a risk to cardiac health, like obesity, Diabetes and High BP. There is a huge amount of research that points to the relationship between metabolic syndrome and sleep disorders. A 2011 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 70% of sleep apnea patients have metabolic syndrome and when treated with CPAP, it lead to a 20% decrease of the disease.

Sleep apnea isn’t just another name for a bad night; it is an umbrella term for many other disorders. Ignoring sleep apnea can worsen any or all of these conditions, resulting in dangerous consequences. In most of the studies, treatment using CPAP were found to result in significant improvement in both sleep apnea as well as the associated condition. The intensity of the disease is directly proportional to the severity of the apnea, as decided by the AHI or Apnea Hypopnea Index. If you suffer from sleep disturbances, visit a sleep doctor as soon as you can to find out the severity of your apnea and the appropriate mode of treatment.

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