You’ve probably heard of sleep apnea, and if you haven’t already, chances are you will.
Sleep apnea is a common disorder that affects one in five adults, afflicting more men than women.
What many don’t realize is that sleep apnea can lead to serious health issues, even death, if left undiagnosed and untreated.
What is sleep apnea and how could it affect my health?
Simply put, sleep apnea is a disorder that affects breathing during sleep. The condition is characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing (apneas) or abnormally low breathing during sleep.
The pauses can last anywhere from ten to thirty seconds and upward to as many as four hundred per night or more, in those with severe sleep apnea.
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Sleep apnea has many possible causes. The most common type of apnea, called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), occurs when there is a physical blockage of airflow. People who are overweight are at an increased risk of OSA, often caused by physical obstructions in the mouth and throat.
During sleep, when your soft palate and tongue muscles are more relaxed, this soft tissue can collapse and cause the airway to become blocked. If left untreated, OSA can cause serious long term health issues including:
· High blood pressure. If you already have high blood pressure, sleep apnea can make it worse. When you wake up often during the night, your body gets stressed. That makes your hormones go into overdrive, which boosts your blood pressure levels.
Also, the level of oxygen in your blood drops when you can’t breathe well, which may add to the problem.
· Heart disease. People with OSA are more likely to have heart attacks. The causes may be low oxygen or the stress of waking up often.
Strokes and atrial fibrillation — a fast, fluttering heartbeat — are also linked with the condition.
Sleep apnea disrupts how your body takes in oxygen, which makes it hard for your brain to control how blood flows in your arteries and the brain itself. People with sleep apnea aren’t just sleep deprived; they’re also oxygen deprived.
Ruben Cohen, D.D.S., Contributor