A study by Marin and colleagues in 2005 demonstrated that people with severe, untreated obstructive sleep apnea have an increased risk of over 317% to suffer a fatal cardiovascular event.
Treatment of sleep apnea saves lives! A study on a sample of 875 patients diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, showed that those treated had significantly higher 5-year survival rates compared with those who did not undergo treatment.
The major symptoms and negative clinical effects of obstructive sleep apnea are:
Intense daily fatigue and sleepiness
People suffering from severe fatigue due to sleep apnea seem characteristically tired. They often find it difficult to stay awake at work or at social events. They are also at risk of falling asleep while driving. Various studies have shown that people suffering from sleep apnea have an increased likelihood of being involved in a serious car accident, while other studies demonstrated that a high percentage of road fatalities can be attributed to drivers suffering from apnea.
Snoring is the most serious symptom of obstructive sleep apnea and it represents the most important complaint of bedtime partners. Often, the spouse of the patient starts the diagnostic process, because of his/her desire for their partner to stop snoring. About 40% of adults snore.
According to some studies, sleep disorders (including obstructive sleep apnea) are associated with the development of chronic headaches. In patients suffering from both apnea and headaches, it has been observed that treatment of apnea also led to the elimination of headaches.
Several studies correlate apnea with gastro esophageal reflux. When the airway closes and initiates an episode of apnea, the patients try even harder to breathe contracting their chest muscles and diaphragm. The contraction of the muscle of the diaphragm causes a compression of the stomach. As a result, gastric fluid moves from the stomach into the esophagus and the oral cavity.
Hypertension occurs in 50-70% of patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a risk factor for the manifestation of hypertension irrespective of body weight, age, alcohol consumption and smoking. Moreover, a direct correlation has been found between apnea and hypertension, with respect to the severity of the latter. Studies have shown that treatment of sleep apnea leads to a reduction in blood pressure.
Weight gain and obesity are risk factors for sleep apnea, but also clinical consequences of apnea. Those who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea feel drowsiness, severe fatigue and lack of energy.
As a result, the person feels the need to consume food rich in calories, in order to obtain the energy required to meet everyday life requirements. The frequent consumption of such food leads to weight gain.
Leptin is one of the many hormones that are released by the body during sleep. It reduces appetite and is secreted at stage 4 sleep. Apnea patients have disturbed sleep patterns, so many hormones are not secreted at physiological levels, leading to a deprivation of the beneficial effects that these hormones have.
Many studies have shown that patients with obstructive sleep apnea display elevated blood sugar levels and an increased insulin resistance. This is attributed to hypoxyaimia, i.e. reduced oxygen levels in the blood, which occurs at the onset of apnea episodes.
This issue is still under study. Of particular interest however, is a study of the National Sleep Foundation in America, according to which sleep apnea occurrence is observed in 80% of patients with Alzheimer's disease.
Stroke / Heart attack
63% of stroke sufferers are also sleep apnea patients. Stroke sufferers are five times more likely to have sleep apnea compared to healthy subjects. Moreover, stroke sufferers with apnea apnea display higher mortality rates over a time period of one year after the event, compared to people who did not suffer from apnea.
In a 2005 study, obstructive sleep apnea was found to be associated with a significantly higher risk of sudden death due to heart attack, in the hours between 12.00 pm and 6.00 am. In 1998, a study by Sinn and coworkers reported that approximately 50% of patients with a history of heart attack, are also suffering from sleep apnea. As a conclusion, sleep apnea is a serious and life-threatening condition.