What Are the Risks of Ignoring Sleep Apnea?

When you stop breathing, oxygen levels drop significantly and can affect your heart, brain, and blood pressure.

Sleep apnea

is directly related to increased cardiovascular and metabolic health risks, and it is more common in men than women. However, rates of

sleep apnea

increase significantly in women after menopause. It is often linked to heart disease and metabolic problems, such as diabetes.

Snoring in and of itself is not the same thing as sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea can suffer from unexplained fatigue and mood changes, as breathing interruptions continuously wake them up and prevent them from enjoying deep, nutritious sleep. Other patients may wake up with a dry mouth, as sleep apnea tends to cause you to breathe with your mouth open and dry your saliva. Some people wake up with a headache, which can be caused by low oxygen or carbon dioxide levels during sleep.

Several studies have shown an association between sleep apnea and problems such as type 2 diabetes, strokes, heart attacks and even a shorter life expectancy. Weight loss is key to treating or preventing sleep apnea for people who are overweight or obese. Women should be especially careful as they age, as weight begins to accumulate in traditionally “masculine” areas, such as the belly, which increases the chances of suffering from sleep apnea. Treating sleep apnea is important because it can have long-term health consequences.

Although there have been some high-profile deaths related to sleep apnea, the real risk comes from the damage caused over time. The main treatment option is a breathing device called CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure machine. Many studies show that regular use of CPAP lowers blood pressure and improves daytime wakefulness. People with sleep apnea who use CPAP also report a better quality of life.

If you or your partner have noticed signs of sleep apnea, see your doctor. A sleep specialist may request a sleep apnea test, which uses equipment to monitor breathing and oxygen levels while you sleep. Often, you'll visit a lab to spend the night monitoring it. Other times, it is possible to use a portable kit to take home.

Sleep apnea is rare but widespread - experts estimate that it affects between 5 and 10% of people worldwide. The severity of sleep apnea varies from person to person. It's completely normal to experience breathing pauses of up to five times an hour for adults and once an hour for children. For these people, a structural problem is often the cause of their apnea, so they can't prevent it.Research indicates that cases of obstructive sleep apnea have increased significantly over the past two decades.

It's time to pay attention to the risks of sleep apnea because women begin to outperform men in apnea rates after menopause. If you ignore this common sleep disorder, you increase your risk of having many health problems.

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