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Untreated Sleep Apnea – what are the side effects?

Do you stop breathing during sleep? Unless you have a sleep partner, that could be a tough question for some people to answer.

Sleep apnea is one of the most common types of sleep disorders. Like many other sleep disorders, sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed for years and many patients suffer needlessly from this treatable condition.

Undiagnosed sleep apnea places patients at increased risk of developing a range of chronic diseases. The good news is that with proper diagnosis, effective treatment is available.

Sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in the upper airway relax during sleep, closing off the flow of air and causing the breath to pause for up to 30 seconds. The condition affects about 1 in 4 men and nearly 1 in 10 women.

Snoring can also be one of the first signs of sleep apnea. However, not all people with sleep apnea will snore.

The severity of sleep apnea is determined according to the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI), which is based on the number of breathing pauses per hour. Apnea is a complete closure of the airway, while hypopnea is a partial closure.

Side effects of sleep apnea

Patients with untreated sleep apnea may not realize they have difficulty breathing at night but are often aware of other symptoms surrounding sleep:

Fatigue – Do you feel tired even after a full night’s sleep, or run down throughout the day? Paused breathing can prevent a person from ever entering restful, regenerative deep sleep. Over time, this can translate into fatigue during waking hours.

Mood swings – It’s normal to occasionally be moody – we’re all human. Lack of restful, good quality sleep over time can impact how we carry ourselves through the day, including emotional regulation and decision making. It can even impact a person’s overall mental health and sense of well–being.

Dry mouth – Waking up from sleep with a dry mouth could be a sign of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea causes patients to breathe through their mouths during sleep to get enough air. This dries the saliva in their mouth.

Waking with a headache – There are a lot of reasons why a patient might wake in the morning with a headache. Besides obvious lifestyle factors such as ensuring you drink enough water during the day, sleep apnea and paused breathing during the night can cause oxygen (O2) levels in the body to drop and carbon dioxide (CO2) levels to increase.

Chronic disease connection

Sleep apnea affects about 1 in 5 people carrying extra weight. It is associated with chronic health conditions like cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes. Additionally, sleep apnea can increase blood sugar levels and is associated with an increased risk of metabolic conditions such as type 2 diabetes.

Talk with your doctor

Addressing sleep symptoms and risk factors such as obesity with your doctor can help prevent or slow the progression of other more serious chronic health conditions.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms and other factors, your physician may be able to provide treatment or refer you for further testing, either in a sleep laboratory or at home.

Consider speaking with your doctor about your sleep challenges and the side effects that you are experiencing. Like other health conditions, proper diagnosis of sleep apnea is a critical first step towards getting the treatment you need and finally getting some good quality ZZZs.

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