The Risks of Having Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a disorder of collapse of the airway when a person is asleep.  It is often seen in individuals who are overweight or who have a small airway.  It can also commonly be seen in children who have large tonsils and adenoids.  Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome is often characterized by loud snoring, disturbed sleep and daytime sleepiness.  It is estimated that 2-4% of the general population has this problem.

Obstructive sleep apnea, however, can do more than result in a bad night of sleep for the patient and their bed partner.  Growing evidence suggests that in a person with sleep apnea, a change in hormone balance can occur perhaps due to repetitively low oxygen levels and inflammation.    This change can lead to increased risk for the metabolic syndrome which consists of a constellation of 3 or more of the following: hypertension, insulin resistance, low “good cholesterol” or HDL, elevated triglycerides, and abdominal obesity.  Sleep apnea has been linked to diabetes mellitus.  In diabetics who snore or who are excessively sleepy, up to 70% have moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea.  Metabolic disturbances in the metabolic syndrome together increase the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus and atherosclerotic heart disease.

So, if you know someone who has poor quality sleep, snores, and is fatigued, they may have obstructive sleep apnea.  If that person also has diabetes mellitus, hypertension, or heart disease their sleep disorder may have something to do with their other medical problems.  Treatment of obstructive sleep apnea may be helpful in managing these other health conditions. 

Talk to your doctor to see if a sleep evaluation would be right for you or your loved one.