Sleep apnea is characterized by frequent interruptions in breathing while asleep, and it can cause serious health problems. The typical complications of sleep apnea include fatigue and cardiovascular problems.
Sleep Apnea and Daytime Sleepiness
Daytime sleepiness is one of the most noticeable complications of sleep apnea. Work performance, schoolwork and relationships may all suffer due to sleep deprivation.
Daytime sleepiness increases the risk of serious accidents. The University of Maryland Medical Center (2010) estimates that the risk of car accidents among people with undiagnosed or undertreated sleep apnea is up to three times higher than for the general population.
Sleep Apnea, Cardiovascular Health and Complications
Heart problems are potential complications of sleep apnea. Cardiovascular health is affected by low blood oxygen levels that occur with each apneic episode. Sudden drops in blood oxygen cause an increase in blood pressure, which places extra strain on the heart.
People with obstructive sleep apnea have a risk of hypertension, or high blood pressure, that is up to three times higher than normal, according to the Mayo Clinic (2010). Sleep apnea also increases the risk of stroke, a risk that increases even more if hypertension is present.
The risk of cardiovascular complications, including congestive heart failure, increases with obstructive sleep apnea. In addition, if you have heart disease, you may be at risk of developing central sleep apnea, a more serious version of the condition.
Other Complications of Sleep Apnea
Cardiovascular and daytime sleepiness are only two examples of health problems associated with sleep apnea. Other complications of sleep apnea include an increased risk of diabetes, seizures, headaches and eye disorders such as glaucoma.
Sleep apnea can exacerbate asthma symptoms and increase the risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease. The condition is also associated with Type 2 diabetes, seizures and mental health conditions such as depression.
Sleep Apnea, Surgery and Anesthetic
Medical procedures can be complicated by sleep apnea. Tell your doctor about your sleep apnea before taking any medications. Medications that relax the muscles such as sedatives, muscle relaxants or tranquilizers can worsen sleep apnea.
Surgery teams and anesthesiologists should be informed of sleep apnea prior to surgery. Lying on your back or being sedated can cause complications during surgical procedures if you have sleep apnea. After surgery, sleep apnea can complicate recovery, especially if the patient must be sedated.
Pregnancy and Sleep Apnea
Women living with sleep apnea have a higher rate of pregnancy complications than women without the sleep disorder. Gestational diabetes and hypertension are both more likely in pregnancies affected by sleep apnea.
Sleep Apnea, Snoring and Partners
Complications of sleep apnea affect bed partners. Loud snoring, snorting and gasping keep partners awake, resulting in sleep deprivation. Bed partners may be forced to sleep in other rooms to escape snoring, which can damage relationships.
Mayo Clinic. (2010). Sleep apnea. Retrieved August 13, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sleep-apnea/DS00148.
New York Times. (2009). Obstructive sleep apnea. Retrieved August 13, 2010 from http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/sleep-apnea/background.html.
University of Maryland Medical Center. (2010). Obstructive sleep apnea. Retrieved August 13, 2010, from http://www.umm.edu/patiented/articles/sleep_apnea_000065.htm.