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Losing Sleep and Dollars: How Undiagnosed Sleep Apnea is Costing America Billions

More than 13 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, and with many of those people not being treated or even diagnosed, it comes as no surprise that this treatable disorder is doing more than keeping Americans up at night; it’s costing them some serious dollars. In August 2016, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) released the results of an analysis that effectively breaks down how untreated and undiagnosed sleep apnea is costing America more than $150 billion every year. What’s perhaps more problematic is these staggering costs aren’t necessary and can be significantly reduced (if not eliminated) by properly diagnosing and treating sleep apnea.



Sleep apnea is a disorder in which breathing stops or is interrupted during sleep. The AASM analysis explains that the $150 billion sleep apnea is costing the American economy is broken up into three cost area: $86.9 billion in lost productivity, $26.2 billion in motor vehicle accidents and $6.5 billion in workplace accidents. Because sleep apnea increases the risk of additional health complications such as heart disease, hyper tension, depression and diabetes, the analysis goes on to cite how "undiagnosed sleep apnea also costs $30 billion annually in increased health care utilization and medication costs related to these comorbid health risks." [1]

The condition can be difficult to diagnose, as many people are unaware of the symptoms. Having the right information is the first step. While the symptoms are often attributed to "just having a bad night’s sleep" or general exhaustion, "common warning signs for sleep apnea include snoring and gasping or choking during sleep, along with daytime sleepiness or fatigue. [But] the major predisposing factor for sleep apnea is excess body weight." 1

Because sleep apnea can lead to any number of health issues, such as the ones listed above, leaving the condition untreated can have serious consequences. Dr. David Buck, a Washington-based neuromuscular dentist, treats many patients in his practice who suffer from sleep apnea. He understands how if left untreated, this disorder can become life-threatening.

"Cardiovascular disease is a number one killer," Buck said. "Stroke, heart attacks, and cardiovascular disease have a very distinct, primary causative risk from untreated sleep apnea. It often goes untreated for many years which does damage."

Though these serious health conditions generally develop over time, patients living with undiagnosed and untreated sleep apnea still experience other issues. People are often unaware that sleep apnea affects more than just sleep quality.

"While that person is untreated, their quality of life is affected," Buck said. "They don’t feel good, they don’t function very well, they can gain and have less cognitive function."

Depending on the severity of a person’s sleep apnea, there are currently a number of treatment options. For people whose sleep apnea is a result of excessive weight, in some cases, weight loss can improve or eliminate sleep apnea symptoms. For others, the Mayo Clinic cites continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), oral appliances other airway pressure devices and surgery as treatments for sleep apnea. Surgery options include jaw repositioning, tissue removal, and/or implants, all of which are invasive. But Buck is ambitious and believes we can move beyond merely treating the condition.

"Wouldn’t it be great if we could cure it?" Buck said. "I think we can. If we do the correct orthopedic development strategies and mild functional therapies combined, there’s a very good chance we could cure it, such that we don’t have adults needing to be treated for sleep apnea."

With so many people living with undiagnosed and untreated sleep apnea, timely and appropriate treatment is necessary in order to save the financial hit to American’s wallets.

 

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