Can Sleep Apnea Cause Death?

The question "can sleep apnea cause death," may sound a little extreme is bound to be frightening for the millions of people worldwide who live with chronic sleep apnea. Yet, if you're losing sleep because of this condition, it's important to realize the potential dangers posed by this common sleep disorder so that you can protect yourself.

Although unexpected death from heart complications is possible, the risks associated with sleep apnea heart disease can be varied and complex. Many studies have shown that sleep deprivation and heart disease are interrelated. What is not so clear is whether sleep apnea causes heart disease or whether heart disease causes sleep apnea.

In fact, it may be that each condition is a trigger or risk factor for the other in many cases. Here are some recent studies that may be useful in considering the question, "can sleep apnea cause death."

  • The journal, "Sleep," recently published two studies showing that people with severe sleep apnea were at a much greater risk of dying prematurely from any health cause (not just heart disease) than people without a sleep disorder.
  • A study of more than 1,000 people, conducted at the Yale Center for Sleep Medicine, found that obstructive sleep apnea "significantly increases the risk of stroke or death from any cause."
  • Research at the University of Toronto in Canada found that patients with severe sleep apnea had a risk of stroke that was up to four times greater than average.
  • Other studies have shown that sufferers from severe and chronic sleep apnea who already have heart disease may be at higher risk of heart beat irregularities (arrhythmias) than the general public.

How Sleep Apnea Affects the Heart

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder which is characterized by frequent interruptions to your breathing patterns. In fact, sufferers experience frequent periods during sleep when they actually stop breathing altogether.

When this happens, your body is deprived of oxygen and, not surprisingly, puts a considerable strain on your heart as it struggles to continue to pump blood through your body.

When this happens over and over again, night after night, the constant pressure on your heart can result in dangerous arrhythmia. It may also cause your heart to become weakened and enlarged, linking sleep apnea to congestive heart failure.

Research has indicated that up to 50% of people diagnosed with heart failure, also suffer from severe and chronic sleep apnea.

Is it the Chicken or the Egg? -Can Sleep Apnea Cause Death
Although research shows that many people who suffer from (or die as a result of) heart disease also have sleep apnea, it's not always clear which condition comes first.

Clearly, the strain on the heart caused by a breathing disorder, is a contributing factor in many cases of coronary disease. But, the relationship between sleep deprivation and heart problems is not as clear cut in all situations.

People who live with heart disease, often (understandably) live with a high level of chronic anxiety and/or pain. Neither of these are conducive to a good night's sleep. Since studies indicate that sleep deprivation itself contributes to the development of heart disease, this obviously worsens the situation. However, it is not necessarily the cause of the problem.

Other Health Consequences

There are also many other ways that sleep apnea compromises your health (and could even cause serious injury or death).

  • Fatique caused by sleep apnea can cause excessive daytime sleepiness, poor judgment, and slows reflexes and reaction times. Not surprisingly, these can be the cause of car accidents, work-related injuries, falls, medication mistakes, and more.
  • Living with a chronic sleep disorder can also cause the chemical balance in your body to be unstable - and your hormones and blood sugar levels may fluctuate on a daily basis. This can cause anxiety and/or depression, which may lead to substance abuse or even thoughts of suicide.

Although the answer to the question "can sleep apnea cause death?" is"yes it can", appropriate and recommended treatment for the condition can reduce or eliminate sleep apnea, As a result, you can likely reduce the risk of associated heart disease or stroke.

How to Reduce Your Health Risks

Will early treatment of sleep apnea prevent you from developing heart problems at a later date? The answer to that question has not yet been answered fully, but research into this topic is on-going and new information are constantly being made.

A study conducted by the Oxford Center for Respiratory Medicine in the UK found evidence that people who suffer with even mild to moderate sleep apnea may be at a significantly increased risk for heart disease. Yet, research project leader Malcolm Kohler, MD, pointed out that findings suggests patients with sleep apnea may experience cardiovascular benefits from CPAP therapy.

For information on the range of available sleep apnea treatment options, click here.

If you think you may have sleep apnea, get a professional diagnosis and treatment right away so that you can minimize your risks and protect the health of your heart.

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