The dangers of untreated sleep apnea

Posted on: March 9th, 2012 by sdavis

For patients with undiagnosed sleep apnea, losing an hour of sleep at Daylight Savings should be the least of their worries.

Everyone can agree that dealing with a snoring spouse can be annoying. But, unfortunately, certains kinds of snoring — or even worse, not breathing at all — can lead to some very serious health conditions. There are a number of symptoms to look out for, and, thankfully, obstructive sleep apnea is completely treatable.

Symptoms of sleep apnea

One of the reasons why sleep apnea can be so difficult to diagnose is because the most obvious symptom, snoring, is often seen as just an annoyance, a joke, or even a sign of really deep, good sleep. In fact, in many cases, snoring may be the body’s cry for help. Patients with sleep apnea literally stop breathing while they are sleeping. Consider contacting your healthcare provider if you or a loved one is experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Waking up with a very sore and/or dry throat
  • Loud snoring
  • Occasionally startling awake due to a choking or gasping sensation
  • Morning headaches
  • Sleepiness while driving
  • A general lack of energy or sleepiness during the day
  • Restless sleep
  • Forgetfulness, mood changes, or decreased libido
  • Recurrent awakenings or insomnia

Dangers of untreated sleep apnea

Aside from the annoying symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches and forgetfulness, sleep apnea also carries the threat of serious cardiovascular problems. This Harvard Medical School study showed that cardiovascular trouble was three times more likely in men with untreated sleep apnea than in men with treated sleep apnea. Why is sleep apnea so destructive on the heart? When the body snores, the right side of the heart may suffer damage because it has to pump harder to support the extra effort of the lungs trying to overcome the obstruction in the airway. Blood oxygen levels may also decrease because of lack of air, which may put people with coronary artery disease at risk for arrhythmias.

Sleep apnea has also been shown to lead to hypertension. During a normal sleep cycle, your blood pressure will fall at night, allowing your body to rest and rejuvenate. People with sleep apnea are not able to stay asleep long enough for their blood pressure to fall to a normal sleeping level. It is estimated that about half of all sleep apnea sufferers end up dealing with high blood pressure. 

Treatment of sleep apnea

If you suspect that you or a loved one may have sleep apnea, the first step is to speak with your primary healthcare provider. Your doctor may decide to have you undergo a sleep study to definitively diagnose your symptoms.

The main treatment for sleep apnea has been a CPAP or BiPAP. These devices provide a steady stream of air to the body, keeping the airway open and unobstructed, so that you won’t snore or stop breathing during sleep.

At CarePro Home Medical, we know that sleeping with a CPAP or BiPAP can be a difficult adjustment, so we let you try out masks at home before you make your final purchase. Our respiratory therapists will work with you to find the right pressure setting on your device, so that you can start getting the kind of sleep you only dreamed about. We also provide regular CPAP/BiPAP Clinics, where you can bring in your device to have it checked and your disposable filter replaced for free! (When is the next CPAP/BiPAP Clinic?)

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