Blog Post

Is Sleep Apnea Dangerous?

It’s common knowledge that regular exercise and a heart-healthy diet can keep your cardiovascular system in tip-top shape. However, if you’re not getting enough quality sleep, your diet and exercise could be all for not. 

Sleep apnea is a sleep condition tied directly to an increased risk for cardiovascular and metabolic health issues. 

The worst part? You may not even know you have it. 

Dr. Fahmi Farah and our Bentley Heart team in Fort Worth, Texas, are here with all the details so you can assess your own risk and get the help you need. 

An overview of sleep apnea

It’s true that the hallmark of sleep apnea is loud snoring, but not everyone who snores has sleep apnea (and vice versa). If you have sleep apnea, snoring usually comes with other symptoms, such as:

  • Gasping for air during sleep
  • Waking with a dry mouth and/or headache
  • Having trouble staying asleep
  • Feeling fatigued during the daytime
  • Not being able to focus 
  • Being irritable

Sometimes, your partner is the one who notices you have a problem because your frequent snoring and waking through the night keeps them up, as well. 

Sleep apnea comes in two forms: central and obstructive. 

Central sleep apnea is much less common and stems from a misfire in your nervous system. Your brain fails to send signals to your breathing muscles, which grinds your breathing to a halt for a short period. 

Risk factors for central sleep apnea include being older, being male, using narcotic pain medicine, and having had a stroke. 

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type. It occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat relax too much. Those muscles support your soft palate, uvula, tonsils, and side walls of your throat and tongue. When they relax, your airway narrows or closes, and you can’t get enough air, which causes you to wake up to reopen your airway. This pattern can repeat itself 5-30 times or more each hour throughout the night. 

Factors that increase your risk for obstructive sleep apnea include:

  • Being overweight
  • Having a large neck circumference
  • Having a narrow airway
  • Being male
  • Being older
  • Having a family history of sleep apnea
  • Using alcohol, sedative, or tranquilizers
  • Smoking
  • Chronic nasal congestion 

The dangers of sleep apnea

Sleep apnea may not sound like a big deal. Your body eventually kicks back into gear and restarts breathing, and you can handle some daytime sleepiness — why should you be worried about it?

In addition to frustrating side effects like fatigue and headaches (and sleep-deprived partners), sleep apnea can directly impact your cardiovascular system. Here’s how. 

High blood pressure

Blood oxygen levels suddenly drop overnight increasing your blood pressure and straining your cardiovascular system. 

Heart attack, stroke, and arrhythmia

Sleep apnea can also increase your chances of having a heart attack, stroke, and/or arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). If you already have a heart problem and you have sleep apnea on top of it, multiple episodes of low blood oxygen can lead to sudden death.

Metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome includes a few other health problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, high blood sugar levels, and a large waist circumference, all of which are linked to a higher risk of heart disease. 

Type 2 diabetes

Having sleep apnea also makes you more likely to develop insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, which often leads to cardiovascular problems, as well. 

Getting the help you need

If you’re concerned about sleep apnea, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with Dr. Farah. She and our team thoroughly review your symptoms and sleep concerns and set you up with an at-home sleep apnea test to gather more information. 

Our at-home testing kits are easy, convenient, and cost-effective, giving us real-time data on what’s happening after your head hits the pillow. 

If we determine that you have sleep apnea, treatment usually involves continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP),  which delivers air pressure through a mask while you sleep. 

More minor cases of sleep apnea can be treated with oral appliances that hold your jaw properly while you sleep. 

Other things you can do to manage sleep apnea include losing excess weight, exercising regularly, avoiding alcohol and tranquilizers, sleeping on your stomach rather than your back, and quitting smoking.

To answer your question: Sleep apnea is very dangerous, especially if you don’t catch it in its earliest stages. If you identify with any of the risk factors, we recommend you request a consultation with Dr. Farah as soon as possible.