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6 Long-Term Effects of Sleep Apnea Left Untreated

April 30, 2020

Sleep apnea is a common condition in the U.S. and affects an estimated 22% of men and 17% of women worldwide. People who suffer from sleep apnea generally experience a high prevalence of early-morning headaches, irritability, and daytime sleepiness, among many other unwanted symptoms. However, the long-term effects of sleep apnea are often far more serious and can lead to chronic health conditions that require treatment.

If you experience any symptoms of sleep apnea, undergoing testing is key to reducing or reversing symptoms, becoming healthier, and lowering your risk for serious health problems.

Here are six long-term effects of sleep apnea that you may experience if this condition is left untreated — and six reasons why you should get an accurate diagnosis now.

1. High Blood Pressure

Sleep apnea causes a spike in systolic and diastolic pressure that contributes to an elevated blood pressure level, both at night and during the day.

Other risk factors associated with sleep apnea, such as obesity, smoking, and heavy use of alcohol and sedatives, are also found to contribute to high blood pressure. Getting an accurate sleep apnea diagnosis and changing your lifestyle is essential to improving your sleep quality and overall health. When left unresolved and untreated, high blood pressure increases the risk for dementia, heart attack, and stroke.

2. Diabetes

The pauses in breathing that occur during sleep apnea can cause the level of carbon dioxide in the blood to increase. This mechanism can lead to insulin resistance and high blood sugar, which is associated with the development of type 2 diabetes. A proper sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment may reduce the overall risk of getting diabetes and keep you in better health.

3. Heart Disease

When lapses in breathing cause the body’s oxygen levels to decrease, the body releases a higher amount of the stress hormone epinephrine. Over time, high levels of epinephrine can put undue stress on the heart, which increases the risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Abnormal heart rate and other heart problems

Avoiding unnecessary stress supports heart health, which is why you should waste no time in getting your sleep apnea accurately diagnosed and effectively treated.

4. Depression

Depression is one of the most common effects of sleep apnea on the brain. Major depressive disorders are prevalent in 17.6% of sleep apnea cases, which only adds to the stressors that this sleep disorder places on the body and mind.

Sleep apnea can cause insomnia, fatigue, and headaches, which interfere with your quality of life and increases the risk for depression. Over time, sleep apnea can lead to imbalances in hormones and brain chemicals, such as serotonin, which can also contribute to depression.

Receiving a proper sleep apnea diagnosis and getting treatment can help alleviate the symptoms of sleep apnea and depression.

5. Stroke

The low oxygen levels and spikes in blood pressure that occur with sleep apnea are also common causes and risk factors of stroke. The incidence of stroke increases with the severity of sleep apnea. In addition to stroke, you may also suffer complications like memory loss, paralysis, and blood clots.

The risk of stroke and related complications is far less likely once you have received a sleep apnea diagnosis and started treatment, such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP).

6. Early Death

People with severe sleep apnea have a significantly higher mortality risk compared with those without sleep apnea — a risk that increases even more when sleep apnea is left untreated. In fact, the risk of sleep apnea death is three times higher in those with severe untreated sleep apnea.

The most common long-term effects of sleep apnea that cause early death are the health problems we have described above: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Fortunately, the risk of sleep apnea-induced mortality is greatly reduced once you have been diagnosed and have started a treatment plan.

Get Your Sleep Apnea Diagnosis

If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from sleep apnea, an at-home sleep test can be an easy, convenient way to find out. Lunella allows consumers to take a sleep apnea test from the comfort of their own home and receive a proper data-driven diagnosis from a board-certified sleep physician and a prescription for treatment, if necessary.

This blog post contains general information about medical conditions and potential treatments. It is not medical advice. If you have any medical questions, please consult your doctor.

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