Can sleep apnea cause death? For the millions who suffer from sleep apnea, this question can be a tough one to face. While sleep apnea may not always be directly attributable, sleep apnea's effects on the body can contribute to heart disease and to fatal automobile accidents. While many treatments exist for sleep apnea, a lack of education in the medical community and general public may lead people to ignoring their symptoms, not being diagnosed and not getting treatment.
Sleep Questions: Can Sleep Apnea Cause Death?
Sleep apnea and snoring can be a phantom medical issue for people who ignore it. A person who snores regularly may not notice the gasps in their breathing or the frequent breath stoppage unless a sleeping partner points it out. Many sleep apnea patients seek a diagnosis only after their partner points out the gasping sound. Discussion with a primary care physician can answer some questions; however, a true diagnosis of sleep apnea and most other sleep disorders requires a sleep study performed at an accredited sleep clinic.
Many reasons might explain why more patients with sleep apnea don't get tested. In the milder forms of sleep apnea, the breathing stoppages are harder to detect. It may go on for years with only mild headaches and sore throats in the morning, both symptoms which are easily attributable to some other cause. The reduced blood oxygen levels, increased stress on the body and lack of proper sleep can begin to take its toll. While treatment may be sought for these secondary and tertiary symptoms, the root cause may remain hidden.
Patients require a certain amount of awareness: awareness of the disorder, awareness of their own symptoms and awareness of treatments to seek help for their condition. Sleep apnea can:
- Contribute to congestive heart failure (reduced blood oxygen levels)
- Decrease the body's ability to heal itself (lack of sleep)
- Diminish the overall quality of life (headaches, sore throats)
- Increase the individual's chance to be involved in an accident (sleepiness)
The problem with sleep apnea is that the effects are gradual and hidden from direct observation. It may take a spouse months to point out the gasping noise and for individuals who sleep alone, no one may notice they stop breathing in the middle of the night.
Pound of Prevention
Treatment for sleep apnea can reduce the associated health problems of ventricular arrhythmia, coronary heart disease and congestive heart failure. Individuals who experience the following symptoms regularly should consult their physician about the possibility of sleep apnea or other sleep disorder:
- Wake regularly with a headache
- Wake regularly with a sore throat
- Wake frequently throughout the night
- Experience daytime fatigue
- Snore regularly and loudly
- Experience decreased concentration
- Gain weight
- Need frequent naps
Not every patient who snores suffers from sleep apnea. Many of these symptoms can be attributable to other causes. Regularly experiencing three or more of them (for months on end) are relatively good indicators of a problem. A sleep study can provide you with the answers you need. Sleep masks, CPAP treatments and sleep studies may not be the most pleasant of alternatives, but all are preferable to wondering the answers to two questions - can sleep apnea cause death and do I have sleep apnea?