Sleep apnea unlike popular belief is not merely a sleeping disorder that renders a person’s night disturbed but can also in some cases prove to be deadly. In the US alone, at least 6% of the adults suffer from mild cases whereas up to 17 % suffer from serious sleep apnea. In order to understand how it can prove fatal for a patient suffering from it, it is imperative that a closer look be taken at the disorder itself.
Characterized by pauses in breathing in addition to shallow or infrequent breath, this disorder targets the respiratory passageway of patients while they sleep. The infrequency or shortage in access to breath causes carbon dioxide to build up in the patient’s bloodstream. This in turn causes the chemoreceptors in the blood to be alerted, hence waking up the patient. Waking up and breathing in air causes a flow of oxygen to reach the patient and restoring the oxygen level to the brain.
Is Sleep Apnea Fatal?
Sleep apnea can prove to be fatal if not treated correctly or not diagnosed properly. Lack of oxygen to the brain clearly stands out as a health risk but with this disorder there is more to be aware of. According to some recent groundbreaking studies, sleep apnea has been found to be directly related to health conditions such as hypertension, coronary diseases, strokes and heart failure. The most obvious and common and impending result of sleep apnea however is “sudden death” due to lack of oxygen.
Sleep Apnea and Coronary Diseases
- Sleep apnea causes activation of the sympathetic nervous system in the human body. This causes the body to go into “fight or flight mode” and go into a state of stress.
- Sleep apnea causes major issues with the lining of blood vessels and often causing inflammation which can prove to be fatal in the long run.
- Sleep apnea contributes to metabolic regulation directly.
The above stated factors all contribute to onset of coronary heart disease.
Sleep Apnea and Stroke
- Sleep apnea causes vasodilation in the brain.
- It causes a shortage of oxygen to the patient’s brain
- The patient’s brain becomes susceptible to risks of blood clots.
The above stated factors all directly affect the brain in ways which lead to a stroke.
Sleep Apnea and Heart Failure
- Sleep apnea causes vasoconstriction and a shortage of oxygen in the patient’s lungs.
- Vasoconstriction causes increased blood pressure in the blood vessels in the right side of the heart.
Over a period of time, both these factors can contribute to heart failure and prove fatal to the patient.
How Can a Healthy Person Die While Sleeping?
This is a common question regarding sleep apnea. The key to understanding the answer to this is to understand that sleep apnea is a disorder and one which requires immediate and effective diagnosis. All the above mentioned health risks are directly related to sleep apnea and can cause long lasting damage if not treated effectively.