Sleep apnea is a widespread sleep disorder; about 30 million Americans are diagnosed with it, and most experts agree it’s wildly underdiagnosed. Despite the condition being so common, sleep apnea can potentially be severe. Here are some of the risks that come with untreated sleep apnea.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is characterized by lapses in breathing during sleep. The symptoms include snoring, interrupted sleep, headaches, and excessive daytime sleepiness. Most commonly, healthcare professionals treat sleep apnea by using a PAP machine to maintain clear airways while the individual is asleep.
Health Risks Associated with Untreated Sleep Apnea
If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to several health complications. This is primarily due to repeated interruptions in breathing throughout the night. The most common problem associated with sleep apnea is cardiovascular disorders. Patients are at an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and irregular heart rhythms. Frequent drops in blood oxygen levels that strain the cardiovascular system cause these issues, leading to long-term damage. Research also suggests a strong link between untreated sleep apnea and metabolic conditions such as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. The disrupted sleep patterns and hormonal imbalances associated with sleep apnea can contribute to significant gain and difficulty maintaining a healthy metabolism.
Increased Risk of Accidents
Untreated sleep apnea commonly associates daytime fatigue with significant issues that it can cause. For example, the risk of road and workplace accidents may be more likely when a person experiences this fatigue. Persistent sleep deprivation and daytime drowsiness can impair judgment, reaction times, and overall cognitive function. This places individuals with untreated sleep apnea at a higher risk of motor vehicle accidents. Untreated sleep apnea patients are also at a higher risk of occupational mishaps, potentially endangering their own lives and the lives of others.
Impact on Mental Health
Sleep apnea can take a toll on mental health as well. Chronic sleep disruptions and subsequent daytime fatigue can contribute to mood swings, irritability, anxiety, and even depression. Additionally, researchers have linked untreated sleep apnea to an increased risk of developing cognitive decline and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
The Importance of Seeking Treatment
Given untreated sleep apnea’s potential risks and consequences, seeking proper diagnosis and treatment is paramount. Several effective treatment options are available, including continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, oral appliances, positional therapy, weight management, and, in some cases, surgery. Consulting with a healthcare professional specializing in sleep disorders can help determine the most appropriate treatment approach based on individual circumstances.
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