Sleep apnea, which is characterized by loud snoring, inability to breathe for a period of time, sore throat and headaches in the morning, and fatigue during the day, is a fairly common disorder in North America. Yet, an estimated 80 per cent of people with sleep apnea go undiagnosed, while those who are diagnosed don’t see the need to commit to the therapies and lifestyle changes recommended to overcome it.
Sleep apnea cannot be fixed with a shot or pill. Instead, patients are required to wear a therapeutic positive airway pressure (PAP) mask or other oral appliance while sleeping; embark on a challenging exercise regime to shed fat; or schedule an invasive surgical procedure.
Isn’t sleep apnea just a severe case of snoring?
Some patients who don’t want to seek treatment for sleep apnea equate the disorder to a bad case of snoring. Snoring, itself, is annoying and embarrassing, but is usually harmless. Sleep apnea, on the other hand, which usually includes snoring, is not just a severe case of snoring, but a dangerous condition that can lead to a myriad of health problems and a reduced lifespan if left untreated.
Sleep apnea prevents you from getting adequate oxygen in your blood, which in turn deprives different body tissues and organs from proper oxygenation and function. If this is not checked, the continued deprivation of oxygen will cause your body to break down, heal poorly, and fall into dysfunction or disease.
Some of the body systems affected by prolonged sleep apnea include:
- The cardiovascular system – Prolonged lack of adequate oxygen in the blood stream for the whole night, every night, can create oxidative stress on your heart, resulting in hypertension (high blood pressure). Other potential heart-related problems include heart attack, chronic vascular disease, atherosclerosis, congestive heart failure, and heart arrhythmia, among others.
- The endocrine system – Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can also affect your metabolism, resulting in obesity. Additionally, the reduced oxygen level in the blood causes a spike in blood adrenaline during the duration of the night when you aren’t breathing properly. This causes a shift in blood chemistry that leads to issues with glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity/resistance, resulting in type 2 diabetes mellitus, chronic edema, and polycystic ovary syndrome, among others.
- The brain – Repeated drops in oxygen saturation in blood every night can damage the mammillary bodies located in the brain, resulting in short-term loss of memory and daytime confusion.
There are also known problems with the respiratory system, the reproductive system, and the urinary tract due to prolonged OSA.
If you suspect you have sleep apnea or have been recently diagnosed with the disorder, it is important that you take your doctor’s recommendations seriously, and seek the right treatment so that you avoid other problems and enjoy quality life.