If you have sleep apnea and you’ve decided not to seek treatment, think twice. The symptoms of untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) aren’t limited to restricted breathing at night, snoring or interrupted sleep. If you aren’t aware that you have sleep apnea or if you choose not to seek treatment, you are at a much higher risk of suffering from several other life-threatening illnesses.
How long can someone live with untreated sleep apnea?
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine says that moderate sleep apnea can increase your risk of death by 17%, but the life expectancy of someone with untreated sleep apnea depends on several different factors. Untreated sleep apnea typically doesn’t cause premature death on its own, but it can lead to it. It is possible to die from a sudden heart attack at night if you have OSA, but most OSA-related sudden deaths are caused by abnormal heart rhythms.
Sleep apnea can lead to premature death because it interrupts your circadian rhythm, throwing off your body and brain chemistry and increasing your blood pressure. This leads to all kinds of comorbidities.
Side Effects of Untreated Sleep Apnea
Since uncontrolled OSA blocks your airways during sleep, it prevents your lungs from taking in the full amount of oxygen you need to get a good night’s sleep. Snoring caused by OSA limits the oxygen sent to your brain. If left untreated over time, this can cause you to be at a greater risk for a wide range of OSA-related comorbidities, including:
- Cardiovascular diseases like hypertension, coronary artery disease, arrhythmias and ischemic stroke.
- Respiratory diseases like like COPD and asthma.
- Metabolic disorders like diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemia and gout.
- Alzheimer’s disease
Not having enough oxygen sent to your brain is a big deal. It can increase your risk of having a heart attack and stroke. People with untreated sleep apnea are also at a greater risk of suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety, which on their own can increase blood pressure, leading to even more fatigue and lethargy. It’s no wonder that lack of treatment can shorten your projected lifespan by 12-15 years.
What is the best course of action?
Call your doctor right away if you are experiencing any untreated sleep apnea symptoms. A successful and consistent sleep apnea treatment regimen not only prevents years from being shaved off your life but can also provide sleeping comfort and improve your quality of life.