The dangers of sleep apnea are real. In fact. sleep apnea can be a dangerous –sometimes deadly — disorder, if not properly treated.
The most frightening dangers of sleep apnea:
Although rare, sleep apnea can cause an enlarged heart, stroke, and possibly death.
How can sleep apnea cause death? Death can result directly from apneic events or indirectly from health issues adversely affected by the sleep apnea. Death can also result from accidents that are due to exhaustion from sleep apnea.
Oxygen is needed for cells to survive. Oxygen enters the body by respiration. Respiration is both voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary respiration is when you consciously control your breathing. Involuntary respiration is when breathing is automatic. You can stop yourself from breathing, but only until you pass out — then your autonomic system takes over and tells the body to breathe. When sleeping, we automatically breathe.
Unfortunately, the steady automatic breathing, that most of find normal, is interrupted in the sleep apnea patient. It is this disruption of automatic breathing and the subsequent lack of oxygen that causes the dangers of sleep apnea. The moment of disruption, when no oxygen is being breathed in, is called an “apnea.”
What causes the apnea?
Sometimes the apnea is caused by a short circuit in the brain. The autonomic system isn’t being told to keep the body breathing.
Other times the apnea is caused by an obstruction of the tongue or collapse of the airway. If air doesn’t enter the lungs, oxygen cannot be extracted and after about 4 minutes cells will begin to die. If enough cells die, the body will not be able to compensate and it will result in death.
Stress on the heart, one of the dangers of sleep apnea
Hundreds of short breathing cessations each night harms the body. Oxygen saturation drops over and over again while carbon dioxide builds up. This puts stress on the heart.
The heart will enlarge over time if the sleep apnea is allowed to go on untreated. Blood vessels constrict causing high blood pressure. Sometimes it will also result in a stroke if too much pressure causes a vessel to burst. If the bleeding from the stroke cannot be controlled, it will also result in death.
Depression, another danger of sleep apnea
How else can sleep apnea cause death? Lack of sleep causes our bodies chemicals to become out of whack. People suffering from sleep apnea live continuously with off balance chemicals that never get a chance to regulate, therefore sleep deprived people often suffer from depression. This depression can lead to suicidal thoughts.
Impaired judgment and accidents
Impaired judgment and slow reaction times can cause accidental deaths from automobile crashes or falls. Sleepiness and inappropriately falling asleep has resulted in fires and accidental CO poisoning.
There have been athletes, actors, authors, and other famous people who have died due to sleep apnea. the most recent and well known is Reggie White, a NFL Hall-of-Famer who died at 43 years of age from an arrhythmia caused by sleep apnea.
So can sleep apnea cause death? Certainly. Can a person with sleep apnea prevent death? Definitely. Early diagnosis, proper treatment, and treatment compliance is crucial for avoiding the dangers of sleep apnea.