Left untreated, long term effects of sleep apnea are complicated and can become serious – far beyond the consequences of poor quality sleep and constant waking.
The throat can close as frequently as 30 times in an hour in cases of severe obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea mostly occurs in overweight and middle-aged men (from around the age of 40). So, it’s easy to see how vulnerable sufferers are to further health problems. The following outlines the stages in how untreated obstructive sleep apnea leads to heart disease.
How sleep apnea leads to heart disease
- Low Oxygen levels: Interruptions to airflow leads to a drop in oxygen levels. Frequent, ongoing interruptions can lead to a severe drop in blood oxygen, with little time between apnea ‘attacks’ for it to be restored to normal levels at all during the night.
- Stress hormones: In response to each drop in oxygen, the body produces adrenaline (also called epinephrine). As oxygen levels get lower and lower, and the body adjusts, more of this stress hormone is produced.
- Hypertension: The adrenal impact in turn raises blood pressure. A second factor now comes into play that also raises blood pressure. In healthy individuals, the heart rate and blood pressure drop during restful sleep. With sleep apnea, this does not happen. So there’s a ‘double-whammy’ effect that can quickly result in hypertension.
- Damaged blood vessels: Hypertension can strip the lining of the blood vessels.
- Clogged arteries: Weakened blood vessels are far more vulnerable to the impact of LDL cholesterol and saturated fats. Unfortunately, chronic sleep disturbances can increase levels of these bad fats in the blood.
- Poor heart function & increased risk of a heart attack…
Chronic sleep apnea, left untreated or treated too late, along with other health outcomes associated with weight and age, is a leading cause of heart disease and heart failure.
If you wake your partner with your snores (even if you aren’t aware of waking and gasping for breath), get checked for sleep apnea. If you have it, it’s recommended that you invest in CPAP treatment – before it’s too late.