What are the complications of sleep apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea has a profound impact on an individual's health. Excessive daytime sleepiness caused by disruption of normal sleep patterns leads to a significant increase in the rate of accidents for obstructive sleep apnea patients, including a sevenfold increase in automobile accidents. Over the long term, obstructive sleep apnea is associated with greater risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease and the National Commission on Sleep
Disorders Research estimates that 38,000 cardiovascular deaths due to sleep apnea occur each year. Cardiac arrhythmias, including pauses and actual heart block occur, as well as potential fatal cardiac arrhythmias. High blood pressure, irritability, fatigue, personality disturbances, industrial accidents and sudden death are all important complications.
Sleep apnea appears to increase the chance for a stroke independent of its association with high blood pressure (a known risk factor for stroke). Sleep apnea is also thought to be related to small strokes called transient ischemic attacks (TIAs). Irregular menstrual periods accompany apnea in about 40% of premenopausal women. It is not clear how they are related, but one study reported that treating apnea helped normalize periods. Patients with sleep apnea also appear to be at higher risk for glaucoma, a serious eye condition related to nerve damage in the optic nerve. One theory for this association is that the drop in blood oxygen that occurs during apneas may either damage the nerve directly or increase pressure in the eye, a cause of glaucoma.
Small children with undiagnosed sleep apnea may "fail to thrive," that is, they do not gain weight or grow at a normal rate. In severe cases, this may effect the heart and central nervous system. A group of researchers theorizes that infants with apneas fail to gain weight because they use so many extra calories while they are struggling to sleep. Most often the sleep apnea is caused by overgrown tonsils or adenoids; their removal may completely solve the problem. If the sleep apnea goes undiagnosed, over time it may also lead to sleep deprivation and behavioral problems as children get older.
Studies report an association between severe apnea and psychological problems. In one study, 32% of patients had symptoms of depression. Certainly, daytime sleepiness interferes with quality of life. It is also possible that severe emotional problems might worsen the apnea. One study investigated the effects of the antidepressant paroxetine (Paxil) on patients with obstructive sleep apnea. The agent improved breathing during late sleep stages but had little effect on other aspects of obstructive sleep apnea.
Because sleep apnea so often includes noisy snoring, the condition can also adversely affect the sleep quality of a patient's bed-partner. Spouses or partners may also suffer from sleeplessness and fatigue. In some cases, the snoring can even disrupt relationships. Diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea in the patient can, of course, help eliminate these problems.
More information on sleep apnea
What is sleep apnea? - Sleep apnea is a disorder in which a person stops breathing during the night. Sleep apnea means cessation of breath characterized by repetitive episodes of upper airway obstruction.
What types of sleep apnea are there? - There are three types of sleep apnea, including obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), central sleep apnea, mixed sleep apnea.
What is obstructive sleep apnea? - Obstructive sleep apnea is a disorder in which complete or partial obstruction of the airway during sleep causes loud snoring, oxyhemoglobin desaturations and frequent arousals.
What causes obstructive sleep apnea? - Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by repetitive upper airway obstruction during sleep as a result of narrowing of the respiratory passages.
What're the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea? - Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea include loud snoring, Daytime sleepiness, memory changes, depression, and irritability.
What is central sleep apnea? - Central sleep apnea is a sleep breathing disorder that occurs when the brain fails to send the appropriate signals to the breathing muscles to initiate respirations.
What causes central sleep apnea? - Conditions that can cause sentral sleep apnea include bulbar poliomyelitis, encephalitis affecting the brainstem, neurodegenerative illnesses.
What're the symptoms of central sleep apnea? - Symptoms of central sleep apnea include extreme exhaustion and sleepiness during daylight hours, early morning headaches, lack of concentration, and memory loss.
What are the risk factors for sleep apnea? - There are several factors that may predispose a person towards sleep apnea, including gender, age, ethnicity, geography, obesity, immune abnormalities.
What are the complications of sleep apnea? - Sleep apnea is a potentially life-threatening condition because there are interruptions in breathing during sleep.
How is sleep apnea diagnosed? - A sleep test, called polysomnography is done to diagnose sleep apnea. Confirmation of the diagnosis requires making measurements while the person sleeps.
What's the treatment to stop sleep apnea? - Treatment for sleep apnea is determined based on the individual's specific circumstances and can include behavioral changes, physical therapy and surgery.
What surgeries are available to cure sleep apnea? - Surgeries to stop sleep apnea include uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, laser-assisted uvulopalatoplasty, tracheostomy, radiofrequency ablation.
What about the CPAP therapy for sleep apnea? - The most effective treatment for sleep apnea is nasal continuous positive airflow pressure (CPAP) therapy.