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The Serious and Somber Reality of Sleep Apnea

With the recent news that actress Carrie Fisher died as a result of sleep apnea and other additional complications, this serious health condition is making headlines across the country. Though officials cannot conclusively determine the exact cause of death, it appears that sleep apnea likely played a role. If left untreated, sleep apnea is harmful to your health and can quickly become dangerous.

What is Sleep Apnea?
The Greek word "apnea" translates to "without breath. As such, sleep apnea is a structural problem characterized by repeated cessations or pauses in breathing during sleep. Typically, the airway collapses during deeper levels of sleep, compromising breathing and interrupting sleep. Millions of American suffer from the disorder, and it affects their everyday way of life, impacting work performance, personal relationships and daily functioning.


Why is sleep apnea so dangerous?
Many people are often unaware that they have sleep apnea, which is the first dangerous part of the condition, as that leads to non-treatment. Where things become even more complex is when you examine oxygen levels of patients suffering from sleep apnea. For people living with this condition, the amount of oxygen coming into the body is reduced, and this can create toxic health conditions.  Because their breathing is labored when they sleep, the body does not fully rest and rejuvenate.

Dr. David Buck, a neuromuscular dentist in Lynnwood, Washington, treats patients with sleep apnea and understands how dangerous the condition can be if left untreated.

"It is potentially life-threatening," said Buck. "Sleep apnea can strike anyone at any age, even children. Yet because of the lack of awareness, the vast majority of suffers remain undiagnosed and therefore untreated, despite the fact that this serious disorder can have significant and deadly consequences."

New Study Shows Increased Risk of Serious Health Conditions 

The Mayo Clinic cites that sleep apnea can increase the risk of certain conditions, like high blood pressure, heart problems and diabetes. A new study published in the Journal of Endocrinology & Metabolism confirms these increased risks. The study examined 31 people with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea. It showed "obstructive sleep apnea is associated with diabetes and cardiovascular disease... [and that] this association may be related to metabolic changes that transpire during sleep in OSA."[1] Researchers also noticed significant "increases in blood pressure and in arterial stiffness, which has been linked with a risk for heart problems."[2] In addition to this, when blood samples were taken, researchers noted "blood samples showed increases in fatty acids, sugar and a stress hormone known as cortisol."[2]

"Given the research, it’s easy to see how sleep apnea can impact so many facets of a person life," said Buck. "With each apnea event, the brain briefly arouses people with sleep apnea in order for them to resume breathing, but consequently sleep is extremely fragmented and of poor quality. They just aren’t resting well."

Poor sleep quality, fatigue and decreased oxygen intake are all very serious complications associated with sleep apnea that can become debilitating. There are ways to help control your symptoms, especially during the high-allergy months, but the best way to manage sleep apnea is through diagnosis and treatment. That’s why Buck encourages people who suspect they may have sleep apnea seek treatment immediately to reduce their risk of additional health complications.

Based on the research and expert testimony, it’s clear that sleep apnea is a serious health condition that can become life-threatening if patients don’t act quickly and remain proactive about monitoring their condition.


 
Sources

[1] Chopra, Swati, Aman Rathore, Haris Younas, Luu V. Pham, Chenjuan Gu, Aleksandra Beselman, Il-Young Kim, Robert R. Wolfe, Jamie Perin, Vsevolod Y. Polotsky, and Jonathan C. Jun. "Obstructive Sleep Apnea Dynamically Increases Nocturnal Plasma Free Fatty Acids, Glucose, and Cortisol during Sleep." The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Oxford University Press, 08 June 2017. Web. 17 June 2017.

[2] Seaman, Andrew M. "Untreated sleep apnea may worsen markers of heart health and diabetes." Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 14 June 2017. Web. 17 June 2017.  

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