The Dangers of Untreated Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea means “sleep without breath,” and that’s exactly what the condition is: you stop breathing repeatedly during your sleep.

There are several reasons you may stop breathing. Obstructive sleep apnea, the most common form, means that something is blocking your airway. Central sleep apnea is when your brain fails to signal your muscles to breathe. You could also have a mixture of both obstructive and central, called mixed sleep apnea.

Whatever the cause of your sleep apnea, when you have it, your brain endures multiple — sometimes hundreds — of small instances of suffocation. You may not be aware of it, but each time you fail to breathe, you wake up a little. This leads to poor sleep, obviously, but there are also more serious concerns associated with untreated sleep apnea.  

Cardiovascular disease

Research shows that there’s an association between cardiovascular disease and sleep apnea. This means that if you have sleep apnea, you’re more likely to have a heart attack, a recurrent heart attack, or a stroke than someone who doesn’t have sleep apnea.

There’s evidence that each failure to breathe, each moment of suffocation, causes a drop in the amount of oxygen in your blood, known as hypoxia or hypoxemia, which puts strain your cardiovascular system. Repeated episodes of hypoxia or hypoxemia can lead to sudden death because it can cause your heart to beat irregularly.

Getting treatment for sleep apnea can reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. It eases the strain on your cardiovascular system by reducing the episodes of hypoxia.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure, which is closely linked to cardiovascular disease, is another condition that you have a higher likelihood of developing if you have sleep apnea. Along with episodes of hypoxia or hypoxemia, your body releases certain hormones when your blood oxygen levels drop. Those hormones can cause your blood pressure to go up.

If you already have high blood pressure, sleep apnea can make it worse. However, if you get treatment for sleep apnea, you may find that your blood pressure improves.

Obesity and type 2 diabetes

Obesity is a risk factor for both sleep apnea and type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, allowing sleep apnea to go untreated can make losing weight more difficult, raising the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Some experts estimate that as many as 80% of people with type 2 diabetes also have sleep apnea.


Sleep apnea can cause your body to release a hormone called ghrelin, which can increase your desire for sweets and carbohydrates. Getting treatment for sleep apnea may reduce some of these cravings and help you lose weight, which in turn, would lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. Additionally, when you aren’t getting enough sleep, you may have difficulty motivating yourself to exercise.


If your partner complains because you snore so loudly their sleep is disturbed, if you wake yourself up snoring, if you wake up with a dry mouth and a headache on a regular basis, or if you wake up out of breath during the night, you should book an appointment at ApneaCare Sleep Lab. There are treatments available for sleep apnea — don’t put your health at risk.

Author
Cheryl Brown

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