If you suffer from sleep apnea, you already know this condition brings a long list of regular symptoms. These may include daily fatigue, morning headache, and an overall mental fogginess that you just can’t seem to shake. In addition to these daily symptoms, the long-term effects of sleep apnea are serious and worth paying attention to. Here are seven major long-term effects of sleep apnea, along with related conditions.

1. Sleep apnea increases the risk of atrial fibrillation (AFIB)

50% of all AFIB sufferers also have sleep apnea. That’s nearly one and a half million people in the U.S. alone with comorbid sleep apnea and AFIB.

AFIB is a serious heart condition where electrical signals in the brain fail to make the heart pump as it should. Blood pools slightly in the heart instead of pumping through it as normal. This increased blood can eventually cause a stroke (see below).

In addition to the stress of AFIB, the uneven oxygen flow of sleep apnea weakens the heart walls, potentially causing stress-related arrhythmia. Sleep apnea increases arrhythmia that can lead to stroke, with lack of sleep triggering AFIB.

Both AFIB and sleep apnea share the risk factors of obesity and cardiovascular disease.

2. Obstructive sleep apnea contributes to dementia

One of the primary markers of Alzheimer’s disease is a protein called beta-amyloid. The more of this protein in the brain, the higher the risk of Alzheimer’s and the faster the potential cognitive decline.

In a healthy sleeper, the glymphatic system sweeps away excess beta-amyloid at night. Those with sleep apnea simply don’t have enough time spent sleeping deeply to clear it away. Those with sleep apnea can also have thinning left and right temporal lobes, both of which are also found in Alzheimer’s patients.

3. Sleep apnea is linked to mood disorders

The link between sleep apnea and depression is astonishing. One study in 2017 found that 50% of clinically depressed patients had severe sleep apnea, and nearly all of the remaining patients had some level of sleep apnea.

But there’s more. Sleep apnea patients are 18 times more likely to suffer from anxiety than people without sleep apnea. Those with more severe sleep apnea suffer from more severe anxiety. This is the same with sleep apnea and depression.

Poor sleep triggers both clinically significant depression and anxiety. Because sleep apnea actually changes the way our brain works (see below), these conditions are inextricably linked to each other.

4. Half of all fibromyalgia patients have obstructive sleep apnea

Fibromyalgia is a widespread pain condition that affects an estimated 2-6% of people worldwide. This incidence may not seem like much, but just like sleep apnea, fibromyalgia is underdiagnosed and undertreated as a chronic pain condition.

And whether or not fibromyalgia causes sleep apnea or vice versa, each increases the chances (and severity) of the other. Just like sleep apnea patients, fibromyalgia sufferers spend less time in deep, slow-wave sleep, the kind that leaves them feeling refreshed. The next day, pain levels may spike, caused in part by poor sleep. When those same pain levels make sleep impossible, the circle becomes vicious.

5. Stroke risk is double for people with sleep apnea

High blood pressure increases your chance of stroke, and sleep apnea is a prime risk factor for high blood pressure. When breathing stops in the night, your body spends a large amount of energy to get it started again. The body’s stress response kicks in until your breath returns.

Trouble is, when this pattern continues, your body stays in the high-stress mode. In addition to the added stress, the lack of oxygen causes carbon dioxide to pool in the lungs and move into the bloodstream. This increased stress and carbon dioxide then increase your risk of stroke.

6. Metabolic changes that occur during sleep apnea increase the risk of diabetes

Many of the conditions so far share common risk factors with sleep apnea, and this one is no different. People with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes have as risk factors weight gain, obesity, abnormal breathing patterns, and significant metabolic changes. This puts them at higher risk of severe obstructive sleep apnea that can then contribute to a worsening of their diabetic symptoms.

Additionally, leptin is a hormone that controls both appetite and breathing. For patients with less of this hormone, their appetite may increase, resulting in weight gain just as their breathing patterns change. Together, it’s a one-two punch of serious risk factors for both conditions.

7. Sleep apnea changes the brain

New research has shown that sleep apnea changes everything about the brain, from the concentration of grey matter to the way our emotions are regulated. It interferes with treatment for depression, and it makes it hard to remember autobiographical details of our early life.

There is some good news, though: researchers have found that even the long-term effects of sleep apnea on the brain may be reversible with sleep apnea treatment.

Am I at risk for sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea risk factors are similar to those of most of the conditions listed above. The primary risk factors for sleep apnea include:

If you suffer from any of the conditions we discussed above or these risk factors, you may also be at increased risk of developing sleep apnea that could make your condition worse. In fact, many health professionals are recommending standard sleep apnea testing if you have comorbid conditions linked to sleep apnea.

If you have been putting off seeking treatment for sleep apnea, get in touch with AZ Dentist. The dangers of untreated sleep apnea are too serious to ignore. With long term effects of sleep apnea that can even include early death, we know how important treatment is. Our team of sleep apnea dentists in Phoenix can help you find a treatment plan that works for you.

Give us a call today to learn more.

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