Why is sleep apnea harmful to my health?

Steven C. Smart, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Severe sleep apnea is like putting your body through a war every night. The body is struggling to breathe, fighting to get the oxygen it needs. Recent studies have shown that up to 50% of acute strokes and heart attacks may be caused by a combination of factors including sleep apnea. It is also thought that the higher number of strokes and heart attacks recorded in the early morning hours may be related to the stress of sleep apnea.

If you have chronic lung or heart disease, sleep apnea is the single most dangerous condition, increasing your risk for stroke, heart attack, vascular disease and other related problems. Up to 25% of patients with uncontrolled high blood pressure have sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea puts the body under enormous stress, and stress increases cortisol production, which boosts blood sugar and negatively affects the immune system.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, and even stroke. It's very hard on your body, especially your blood vessels. What's more, you're more prone to memory loss, emotional outbursts, depression, accidents, and relationship issues.

The good news is the treatments available are largely effective. Once your treatment plan begins, you'll wonder why you waited so long.

Almost 10% of people who snore have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is defined as any period during your sleep in which you stop breathing for more than 10 seconds at a time. Actually, sleep apnea isn't snoring -- it's a stoppage in snoring. Like a beautiful painting or person, it takes your breath away.

The interruption of breathing is not the only danger with sleep apnea. When you stop breathing, your body actually wakes up -- you're just not conscious of it. The effect is that you never fall into a rejuvenating deep sleep.

Your body needs two kinds of sleep during the night: REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and slow-wave sleep. To get into deep REM sleep, you need about 90 minutes of consistent sleep.

So if you're waking up 10 times an hour, which is typical for people with sleep apnea, you're never getting into REM, and you won't wake up refreshed.

In the early stages of sleep apnea, there's no real damage to your body. But as the disorder progresses, it leads to more serious issues.

Episodes of breathing cessation cause the lungs to hold on to some carbon dioxide, which can lead to high blood pressure. Poor sleep quality can cause excessive fatigue throughout the day, memory loss, and morning headaches. Over time, it also can also increase the risk of stroke, and in some cases it may trigger abnormal heartbeats and other cardiovascular problems.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.