Sleep apnea is a much-underestimated disorder because it can lead to serious consequences. Complications of sleep apnea can be life-threatening if this sleep disorder is left untreated. Add to it the fact that its symptoms manifest during your sleep and therefore, you do not realize that you have them. If you have somebody sleeping in your bedroom, only then they will be pointed out to you.

We all talk about healthy dietary approaches and physical activity for good health. What is vastly ignored here is the need to have the required hours of proper sleep. The quality of sleep you receive is very fundamental for the good health of your heart, brain, and metabolism.  

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder and though its symptoms may appear benign, its impact can have serious consequences.

These complications of sleep apnea can even prove fatal if you ignore this condition and leave it untreated. You can take treatment to stave off its repercussions and you should promptly do it.

You may develop obstructive or central sleep apnea or both and their causes are numerous. Some you can control while some you cannot.

You should consult a sleep professional who will conduct sleep studies such as polysomnography to diagnose your sleep disorder and offer treatment for the same.

Effects of sleep apnea on health

Sleep apnea produces a wide range of health issues spanning most systems of the body including the heart, brain, metabolism, and day-to-day performance. These include

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness due to inadequate deep sleep during the night
  • Poor memory, forgetfulness, and difficulty in concentration lead to poor performance at work. In children, academic performance suffers.
  • Insomnia. The onset of this sleep disorder can make you susceptible to its health dangers.
  • Higher risk of developing depression
  • Lack of interest in sex and erectile dysfunction (male impotence)
  • Increased risk of accidents while driving or operating machinery even during daytime (due to lack of sleep).

More serious systemic side effects

Obesity is a very common cause of sleep apnea and because most of its patients are obese, they are at a higher risk of developing diabetes, stroke, and heart attack. These are the hallmark complications of obesity.

1. High blood pressure (Hypertension)  

Hypertension is a serious complication of obstructive sleep apnea. Due to less intake of oxygen and because of restricted breathing (due to obstruction to airflow during breathing), oxygen levels in the blood fall.

The sympathetic nervous system reacts by constricting the blood vessels and making the heart work harder to increase the oxygen supply to the body. This causes blood pressure to rise, which can cause cardiovascular complications.

The risk of hypertension increases threefold if you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and this risk increases with the severity of your apnea.

Secondly, treating hypertension, which has developed due to obstructive sleep apnea is more difficult and it subsides only after you have treated this sleep disorder possibly with surgery.

It has been found that 80% of difficult-to-treat hypertensive cases (needing more than one antihypertensive drug) have obstructive sleep apnea.

However, getting help for apnea will then see your blood pressure improve significantly.

2. Heart complications  

Congestive cardiac failure, cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), and heart attack are complications of sleep apnea that can have fatal consequences. The risk of these heart diseases doubles in patients who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.

These complications arise due to the higher work pressure on the heart to provide adequate oxygen levels to the various parts of the body because oxygen blood levels are low due to apnea.

3. Stroke

Risk of stroke increases by 1.5 times if you have obstructive sleep apnea and this is irrespective of whether you have hypertension or not.

Sleep apnea can be a complication of stroke and can also be the cause of a stroke. It causes low oxygen levels in the blood and hypertension, both of which can significantly increase the risk of a stroke.

With the stress of persistent low oxygen levels, the sympathetic nervous system releases stress hormones, which elevate blood pressure and cause the heart rate to fluctuate (atrial fibrillation). Both these conditions, hypertension, and atrial fibrillation, are recognized risk factors for stroke.

4. Complications during a surgery

While any surgery carries its share of risks, the presence of sleep apnea increases the risk significantly especially when the surgery is being carried out under general anesthesia.

Medications given to induce anesthesia are muscle relaxants and relax the muscles of your throat, which can make your apnea condition worse during the surgery.

At such times, the use of endotracheal intubation may be required during the procedure to help you breathe. The postoperative hospital stay may also be extended to monitor the progress of your breathing.

5. Diabetes

Recent research shows a connection between obstructive sleep disorder and diabetes. It is found that 80% of Type 2 diabetes patients suffer from sleep apnea.

Insufficient sleep may prevent the body from using insulin effectively leading to a rise in blood sugar levels. It also alters glucose metabolism. All this leads to the development of type 2 diabetes.

Treating sleep apnea in such cases improves diabetes.

6. ADHD  (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)

It is found that sleeping problems and ADHD often coexist. ADHD in children causes the child to become less attentive in class, become very easily distracted, and is prone to various behavioral problems. One of the possible causes of ADHD is lack of sleep.