It's Not Just Snoring: The Dangers of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea causes you to repeatedly stop breathing for at least 10 seconds at a time while you sleep. The most common type of sleep apnea, obstructive sleep apnea, occurs when your throat muscles collapse and block your airway.

A person without sleep apnea may have up to five periods of apnea, or breathing cessation, in one hour. Having between five and 15 hourly apnea episodes characterizes minor sleep apnea, between 15 and 30 hourly episodes indicates a moderate disorder, and apnea that occurs 30 times or more per hour is considered severe. 

Though the snoring associated with sleep apnea can interfere with the amount and quality of rest you achieve, more serious effects can damage your brain and heart health. According to a recent Johns Hopkins study, people with sleep apnea typically have higher than normal blood pressure. They’re also more likely to have elevated levels of fat, blood sugar, and stress hormones. Living with these factors over time increases your risk for serious conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. 

Proven treatment for sleep apnea involves keeping your airway open while you sleep. Sleep apnea specialists Melissa Daza, DDS, and Michelle Schwartz, DDS, of Bucktown Wicker Park Dental in Chicago can fit you with dental appliances that prevent airway blockages that cause sleep apnea. These custom-made appliances help keep your airway open while promoting consistent healthy breathing and a restful night’s sleep. 

Read on to find out about the potential risks of sleeping with untreated sleep apnea and why treating it could save your life. 

High blood pressure and heart disease

When you experience episodes of restricted breathing with sleep apnea, your oxygen levels can plunge. During these periods, your brain tells your blood vessels to direct existing oxygen stores to maintain important body functions. The additional blood flow increases pressure on the walls of your blood vessels, resulting in high blood pressure. 

While sleep apnea has noticeable symptoms, high blood pressure lurks in your body as a “silent killer.” You can live with high blood pressure and not realize it until it progresses. Living with untreated high blood pressure can cause significant damage to your blood vessels, heart, kidneys, and eyes. 

High blood pressure is a key risk factor for heart disease, which ranks as the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. 

Stroke

While sleep apnea can occur as a result of stroke, sleep apnea can also work to trigger a stroke. When the body experiences low oxygen levels during periods of apnea, it exerts intense effort to open the blocked airway and let air in. During this time, your brain can be deprived of the oxygen necessary to maintain your body’s systems. When left untreated, patients with moderate sleep apnea have a three times greater risk of stroke.

Persistent low blood oxygen results in the release of stress hormones that increase blood pressure levels and cause irregular heart rates or atrial fibrillation (AFib), two key factors for stroke. If you experience a stroke while you’re asleep, you may not realize it for several hours or be able to get needed treatment. 

Type 2 diabetes

You have a nearly 50% chance of having sleep apnea if you have type 2 diabetes. When sleep apnea remains untreated, your body is more likely to experience higher glucose levels and chronic fatigue. 

Type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea often co-occur because many people with both conditions are obese, a major risk factor for both type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea. Even without the factor of obesity, sleep apnea may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes because of frequent sleep disturbances and sudden awakenings. 

During periods of apnea, your body releases stored glucose in response to stress. However, the effects of inadequate sleep may weaken your body’s ability to control and maintain healthy glucose levels, increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes. 

Impaired cognitive function

Sleep apnea is associated with mild cognitive impairment, which describes a decrease in your decision-making, thinking, and memory abilities. In adults, the effects can impact concentration and motor skills. In older adults, sleep apnea can increase your risk of developing dementia. For children, sleep apnea is associated with learning disabilities.

Consistent sleep deprivation can also result in daytime drowsiness and delayed cognitive-motor reactions. The fact that sleep apnea interferes with healthy sleep can also increase your risk of causing driving and work-related accidents. 

With our expert treatment, many of these dangers of sleep apnea can be avoided. Find out more about the benefits of treating sleep apnea with a custom-made dental appliance. Schedule an appointment by calling our office to arrange a consultation.

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