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July 15, 2022

Sleep apnea: what are its consequences?

Sleep apnea: what are its consequences?

Wikipedia defines sleep apnea as ‘a sleep disorder characterized by repetitive episodes of pauses in breathing or periods of shallow breathing during sleep’. It is one of the most common sleep disorders, second only to insomnia. According to the Brazilian Society of Pulmonology and Phthisiology, more than 30% of the population of the city of São Paulo may suffer from apnea.

Apnea is a disorder that interferes with sleep quality, and also a risk factor for a number of diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiac arrhythmia.

What is sleep apnea?

As we just mentioned, sleep apnea is one of the most common sleep disorders and its main characteristic is respiratory changes while the person sleeps.

People who suffer from this disorder may experience periods of shallower-than-ideal breathing or even quick breathing pauses while sleeping.

The most common type of apnea is called obstructive sleep apnea syndrome – as the name implies, it is characterized by the obstruction of the airways, which happens due to the relaxation of the throat muscles while the person sleeps. This relaxation stimulates a temporary blockage of the region, which obstructs the pathways and causes a smaller amount of air to reach the lungs.

When this happens (and it can occur hundreds of times a night in more severe cases), it can cause choking, choking noises, snoring and small awakenings that interrupt the sleep cycle.

What are the symptoms of apnea?

About 85% to 90% of people who have sleep apnea are not aware of it, as reported by the Brazilian Society of Endocrinology and Metabology.

Snoring is the main indicator of sleep apnea. But it is important to highlight that, although it is the most frequent cause, not all snoring is necessarily a sign of apnea.

Other symptoms such as a feeling of suffocation during sleep, morning headache, and daytime sleepiness may also indicate the presence of the disorder. Those who sleep together can also count on their partner’s attention for breathing pauses or even a noisy and/or restless sleep.

The diagnosis actually depends on a doctor after performing some tests, such as a polysomnography.

What causes sleep apnea?

Sometimes, apnea may occur due to an anatomical problem such as adenoids, enlarged tonsils or a small lower jaw. But in other cases, lifestyle plays an important role in the development of the disorder: smoking, drinking large amounts of alcohol, sedative use and overweight are risk factors for apnea.

Therefore, a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet and physical exercise practice, and free from cigarettes and alcoholic beverages, is important to prevent or mitigate the problem.

What are the consequences of apnea?

Sleep apnea directly affects the quality of life of those who suffer from it. Snoring caused by the disorder can cause marital problems; poor sleep quality can affect mood the next day, and productivity at work and studies can also be affected.

But beyond that, apnea is a risk factor for several health problems and can put a person’s life at risk. Check out some possible problems arising from it:

– The lack of oxygenation caused by sleep apnea overloads the heart, which increases the risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

– The American Diabetes Association (ADA) warns that sleep apnea can cause changes in glucose metabolism and insulin resistance, factors that can trigger type 2 diabetes.

– A study conducted in Taiwan also links sleep apnea with an increased risk of chronic kidney disease.

– In addition, daytime sleepiness caused by sleepless nights as a result of apnea increases the risk of accidents in general, and also affects productivity.

If you think that you may have sleep apnea, the best thing to do is seek medical help to have a diagnosis and be deferred to the most appropriate treatments.

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