Author: Dr. Mayoor Patel, DDS, MS

Untreated sleep apnea is dangerous and when it goes untreated, it can lead to a variety of health complications. From an increased risk of cardiovascular disease to diabetes, health complications associated with sleep apnea should never be ignored. To help your patients gain a better understanding, let’s take a look at a few health problems linked with sleep apnea.

Heart Disease: As you might know, heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, while stroke takes fourth place for the cause of death and a leading cause of disability with high blood pressure being a major risk in both conditions. The relationship between sleep apnea, hypertension and cardiovascular disease is very strong, which makes it vital that everyone understand this connection and seek treatment immediately.

When sleep apnea episodes occur, you might not wake up. However, if you do wake up, you might gasp for air. Sleep apnea prevents patients from getting a good night’s sleep every night, which can also be associated with high blood pressure, arrhythmia, stroke and heart failure. These conditions are the leading cause of disability while high blood pressure is a major risk factor for both. If a patient continues to wake up exhausted after a full night’s sleep, treatment of sleep apnea is important.

High Blood Pressure: A sudden drop in blood-oxygen levels occurring during sleep apnea episodes increase blood pressure and places a strain on your cardiovascular system. It is estimated that 50% of people with sleep apnea develop high blood pressure (hypertension), which can play a serious role in heart disease. When the blood supply to part of your brain is interrupted, or severely reduced, your brain tissue is deprived of oxygen and nutrients.  Within just a few minutes, brain cells begin to die.  Through the damage and stress to your blood vessels, it is believed that this is caused by blood pressure and oxygen changes from sleep apnea, which increases your risk of stroke.

Type 2 Diabetes: People suffering from type 2 diabetes will often also suffer from sleep apnea, which can also lead to obesity. As you might know, obesity is another common comorbidity of sleep apnea. In addition to obesity, diabetes and sleep apnea share a long list of other potential complications. While treating sleep apnea is important in getting a good night’s sleep, treatment can also help treat and maybe even eradicate many other diabetic complications.

Obesity: When people are severely overweight, they can fail to breathe rapidly enough or deep enough. When this occurs, it results in low blood oxygen levels and high blood carbon dioxide levels. And when this happens, many people who are obese stop breathing altogether for short periods of time during sleep. In return, this places an extreme strain on the heart, which can lead to symptoms of heart failure.

Worsening of ADHD: Not everyone with sleep apnea has ADHD, just like not everyone with ADHD has sleep apnea, but it can be possible. Large tonsils and adenoids can partially block the airway at night, which can cause snoring and poor sleep. That, in turn, may lead to attention problems during the day, in addition to daytime sleepiness. Untreated sleep apnea may also be responsible for poor performance in everyday activities, such as at work and school, motor vehicle crashes, and academic underachievement in children and adolescents. So, at the end of the day, if you suffer from sleep apnea or are experiencing symptoms that you believe are indicators of sleep apnea, it is important to seek treatment immediately.

Depression: This is not something that should be ignored, nor should people think it would simply go away with time. The relationship between sleep and depression is complex, but it is very apparent. It has been shown that depression may cause sleep problems and sleep problems may cause or contribute to depression. For some people depression symptoms occur before the onset of sleep complications, but for others sleep problems appear first.  Sleep problems are associated with more severe depression.

What Do We Tell our Patients?

While treating sleep apnea is important in getting a good night’s rest, treatment can also help treat and maybe even eradicate many other health complications.  In addition to decreasing daytime sleepiness and removing a barrier to effective weight loss and/or management, treating sleep apnea can also improve an array of other complications, including:

  • Psychological well-being.
  • Memory, concentration and other cognitive functioning.
  • Erectile dysfunction.
  • Lower blood pressure levels.
  • Productivity during the day with fewer sick days.
  • Decrease in the risk of traffic accidents.

A better night’s sleep can go a long way toward improving our patients’ overall health and well-being.

Continuing Education

We have a variety of upcoming educational courses to help further improve your understanding of sleep apnea and treatment in the dental field. For more information, visit our Dental Sleep Medicine schedule page. If you have any further questions, please contact us through our site or by phone at 1-800-879-6468.