Back To Basics…Untreated Sleep Apnea Will Kill You!

Dr. Jonathan Greenburg, DDS
Snoring and Sleep Apnea Expert
February 26, 2014

As a snoring and sleep apnea expert, I am constantly asked to explore the “what ifs” associated with snoring, sleep apnea, and poor sleep in general; however, I wanted to get back to basics for a moment and make something perfectly clear…untreated sleep apnea will kill you.

Did you know that 80% of all cases of sleep apnea go undiagnosed? And that untreated, sleep apnea can lead to death? Not to sound any false alarms, but a problem such as this, that many people consider to be a mild to moderate nuisance (unless, of course you sleep with a snorer!), can be a problem that threatens your life. While total number of deaths due to sleep apnea thought to be related to it are hard to come by, research cited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine suggests that left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to:

  • Cancer, an increase in risk more than 4 times
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Higher rate of death due to heart disease
  • Heart Attacks
  • Diabetes due to impaired glucose tolerance and insulin resistance
  • Impaired concentration
  • Falling asleep at work or behind the wheel of your car
  • Mood changes
  • Gastric Reflux (GERD)
  • Increased risk of being involved in a deadly motor vehicle accident
  • Weight gain and the inability to lose weight

Yes, it’s much more serious than you think.

With potential health complications such as increased risk of stroke and higher rate of death due to heart disease, my team and I thought it would be important to give more information on this widely misunderstood medical condition.

So what exactly is sleep apnea?

Many of us have heard the term, used it in passing, but may not fully understand what sleep apnea actually means. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine defines sleep apnea as a “sleep-related breathing disorder that involves a decrease or complete halt in airflow despite an ongoing effort to breathe…It occurs when the muscles relax during sleep, causing the tongue and soft tissue in the back of the throat to collapse and block the upper airway.”

In simple terms, your throat is like the fuel line to your car. If the fuel line to your car closes partially or completely, how well does your car run if at all? Well, Snoring is a partial blockage of your body’s fuel line while sleep apnea is a complete blockage.

In other words, as your body rests and you attempt to sleep, something is blocking your airway. That something in most cases is your tongue but could also be a buildup of fatty tissue, excess weight or other problems. Whatever the reason, this blockage causes you, the sleeper, to stop breathing up to 10-30 seconds at a time, and in some cases for 1 minute or longer.

Take the case of former Argos coach Joe Hay* who died in his sleep, ostensibly from sleep apnea. Joe Hay was a California varsity football head coach who wore a CPAP machine and mask nightly to deal with his sleep apnea problem (CPAP machines are one of the most common treatment options for the treatment of Sleep Apnea). Joe was a 41-year-old man, in apparently otherwise perfect health that had no other ongoing health issues. Normally he wore the CPAP machine to sleep, but did not wear it on the night in question. The next morning, Joe’s wife, said she found her husband in the bed not breathing. He did not wake up. It is obvious why cases like this make professionals very concerned about public awareness of this issue, its growing trend and the need for better treatment options such as Hybrid oral appliances that are more comfortable and have a higher compliance rate than the CPAP machines.

We know that with today’s busy lifestyle it is very easy to forgo needed rest in order to achieve, go and do. It is important though, to remember balance and listen to your body.

Other Reasons Why You Should Take Sleep Apnea Seriously

Dr. Neomi Shah and colleagues at Yale University found that “having sleep apnea for four or five years raises a person’s risk of having a heart attack or dying by 30%.”

To come to these conclusions, Dr. Shah’s study followed approximately 1,123 patients evaluated for sleep apnea. More than 500 of these patients had 15 or more low-oxygen events (meaning patients’ oxygen intake was lowered significantly due to sleep apnea) per hour of sleep.

According to Dr. Shah’s findings, after adjusting for other heart risk factors, “these patients were 30% more likely to have a heart attack or die over a four-and-a-half year period. The more severe the sleep apnea, the higher the risk of heart attack or death.”

Something far more serious than just the aggravation and inconvenience of snoring – lack of attention to snoring and signs of sleep apnea can kill you; it’s that simple.

If you or a loved one suffers from sleep apnea, take care and go to your doctor or your healthcare professional to be diagnosed. My team and I have devoted our lives to saving yours through awareness and advanced technology. Whether it’s a traditional CPAP machine or the latest development in Hybrid Oral Appliances, there is a solution for everyone. It might just save your life.

– Dr. Greenburg