What happens with untreated Sleep Apnea?

Types of Sleep Apnea and What Happens if it Goes Untreated

The word “apnea” is a Greek word meaning “without breath”, so it is fitting that sleep apnea is actually a condition in which there is a pattern of involuntary cessations of breath while a person is sleeping. There are three different kinds of sleep apnea. The most common kind is called obstructive sleep apnea, but there are also a sleep apnea called central sleep apnea and another type known as mixed sleep apnea . The underlying causes are different in each kind of sleep apnea, but in all three types there is a repeating of involuntary cessations of breath while a person is sleeping, sometimes up to hundreds of times during a sleep cycle, and sometimes the cessation occurs for a minute - or longer. Usually the person sleeping is not aware of the cessations because the breath stoppages do not actually trigger full-on awakenings.

However, left untreated, sleep apnea can result in serious, and even life-shortening or life-threatening conditions, such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and even auto accidents caused by a person falling asleep while driving.

Sleep apnea is known to be more common for men than women, and in particular Hispanic and African-American men. The most common symptom for all types of sleep apnea is snoring that is extremely loud - often loud enough that partners and/or family members can find it totally intolerable.

Obesity, bouts of waking up breathless during the night, frequent waking in the morning with headache and/or a dry mouth, and persistent daytime fatigue can all be indications that sleep apnea is present. However, none of these symptoms are considered to be always present. Only sleep studies in a professional sleep lab - or sometimes a home study - can definitively detect sleep apnea, and its severity.

In obstructive sleep apnea is caused by blocked airways, usually occurring from the collapse and closure of soft tissue in the back of the throat when a person is sleeping.
Meanwhile, in central sleep apnea, the actual airways are not blocked but the brain does not send proper breathing signals to the muscles. And, with mixed sleep apnea, there is a combination of both blocked airways and improper signaling from the brain to the muscles.

In every apnea event, the brain does signal the sleeper to resume breathing, but often only partially. The result is that a person’s sleep is very fragmented and incomplete.

Sleep apnea is actually quite common. It as prevalent as type 2 diabetes and, the National Sleep foundations suggests that more than 18 million Americans are currently affected by the condition.

There are many risk factors including being over the age of 40, being male, and being overweight. But, anyone, including children can develop sleep apnea. A large portion of people with sleep apnea, actually remain undiagnosed due to simple lack of awareness, and therefore it often goes untreated even though this condition can have very serious consequences. Luckily, awareness is increasing and research continues to develop.

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