If you want to take care of your cardiovascular health, you have to be very careful about the diet you have and doing regular exercise. However, your heart’s wellbeing also depends on the quality of sleep you receive. What’s more, it has been discovered that there is a close connection between the higher risk of cardiovascular and metabolic health issues and uncontrolled sleep apnea. What’s probably the most concerning thing is that undiagnosed sleep apnea seems to be a very common incidence.
It has been estimated that about 3 percent of normal-weight individuals are affected by sleep apnea, while this condition occurs in over 20 percent of obese people. Additionally, it has also been discovered that this sleep disorder affects more men than women in general, but the rate for women increases after menopause. Sleep apnea has been closely linked with heart disease and metabolic problems, such as diabetes.
What Are the Signs of Sleep Apnea?
There are three types of sleep apnea, central sleep apnea (CSA), obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and mixed sleep apnea (both central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea).
Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to send the right signals to your muscles to make you start breathing. On the other hand, obstructive sleep apnea, the most common type, happens when the air can’t flow into or out of the nose or mouth, although you’re trying to breathe.
This sleep disorder is usually noticed by the bed partner rather than the sleeper as they’re more likely to notice the pauses in breathing or the loud snoring. Snoring doesn’t always happen because of sleep apnea, while many people have this sleep disorder without experiencing snoring.
When it comes to the signs of sleep apnea, it’s important to mention that they vary. Nevertheless, many sleep apnea patients tend to suffer from unexplained fatigue and mood swings due to the continuous waking during the night. Additionally, some sufferers wake up with a dry mouth as they breathe more through their mouth, while other individuals wake up with a terrible headache due to the low oxygen or high carbon dioxide levels during sleep.
The Risks of Uncontrolled Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea, especially if undiagnosed and untreated, can have plenty of negative cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and physical effects. When the pauses in breathing happen, the oxygen levels in the blood drop, which makes the brain increase the blood pressure and the heart rate. So, you are awakened with an urge to start breathing again.
These chronic cycles of accelerated heart rate and increased blood pressure usually go unnoticed, but they tend to increase inflammation in the body over time. Chronic inflammation can trigger plaque buildup in the arteries which increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, type 2 diabetes, and can damage the pancreas.
Besides the fact that a number of health conditions have been associated with sleep apnea, it hasn’t been clearly stated whether these conditions are triggered by sleep apnea or the sleep disorder is a result of having the underlying condition.
Nevertheless, you should be aware of the health issues which can be triggered by uncontrolled sleep apnea, including:
- Heart diseases, such as atrial fibrillation, heart attack, and heart failure
- Metabolic syndrome
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes, gestational high blood pressure, and preeclampsia
- Liver damage
A number of studies conducted have shown the connection between sleep apnea, cardiovascular risk and metabolism. As many sleep apnea sufferers are obese, it is considered that obesity is the main culprit behind sleep apnea, diabetes, and stroke. However, as not every sleep apnea sufferer is obese, many studies have shown that sleep apnea can increase blood sugar levels.
If you are an obese individual experiencing this sleep disorder, you should know that losing the extra weight will be the first step towards treating the condition. It has been shown that people who tend to accumulate fat in the neck, tongue and upper belly are especially prone to developing sleep apnea.
Likewise, when it comes to sleep apnea in women, it’s important to note that they should be more careful as they age. After menopause, women experience a hormonal change which can, even more, increase the risk of sleep apnea.
Diagnosing and Treating Sleep Apnea for Better Health
Diagnosing and treating sleep apnea is crucial as having an undiagnosed and uncontrolled sleep disorder can have long-term consequences for your health. Even though this sleep disorder is linked to many health issues, it is believed that the true risk comes from damage done over time.
Hence, if you suspect you might have sleep apnea, it’s important to talk to your doctor and share your concerns. Your doctor will make an evaluation based on your signs and symptoms and probably refer you to a sleep disorder center. Then, a sleep specialist will determine your need for further evaluation. There are several possible diagnosing options, but home sleep testing seems to be the preferred and the most common choice.
The home sleep test usually measures your heart rate, blood oxygen level, airflow and breathing patterns. If the results of the test are abnormal, you will probably be referred to an ear, nose and throat doctor to rule out a blockage in your nose or throat. However, your physician might be able to prescribe a therapy without further testing.
One of the most effective therapy options for sleep apnea is continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP. CPAP therapy creates air pressure to keep your throat open while asleep and thus, preventing pauses in breathing. Regular use of CPAP therapy has a very positive effect and the symptoms and improves sleep apnea patient’s quality of life.