Healthy Living

Can Patients Really Die From Sleep Apnea?

Can Patients Really Die From Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea affects almost 12 million people in the United States. Sleep apnea is a common disorder that can disrupt anyone's daily routine, but is it possible for this disorder to also cause sudden cardiac arrest?

Cardiologist Bruce Wilkoff, M.D. discusses the side effects of sleep apnea, “not only are you likely to wake up with a headache and fall asleep during the day, but you’re also at risk of dying suddenly.”  

Why does this risk exist? Doctors diagnose sleep apnea when you stop breathing for at least 10 seconds, or longer, five or more times an hour while sleeping. Reena Mehra, MD, MS says that “Sleep apnea may lower oxygen levels, activate the fight-or-flight response and change pressure in the chest when the upper airway closes, stressing the heart mechanically.”

Sleep apnea also causes inflammation and disruptive changes in blood vessels that create a higher risk of cardiac problems.

In a five-year study 11,000 people who had obstructive sleep apnea were diagnosed with a higher risk of sudden cardiac death. The people at the highest risk? Those who are 60 and older who have at least 20 episodes of sleep apnea each hour.

When oxygen saturation levels drop below 78% and air cannot flow into your lungs, your risk of cardiac problems rises to almost 80%. In other words, severe obstructive sleep apnea gives you a higher chance of abnormal heart rhythms from others who do not have sleep apnea.

Studies have also found that those with obstructive sleep apnea are 2.5 times as likely to have a sudden cardiac death between midnight and 6 a.m.

Those who die in their sleep due to severe changes in their cardiovascular system lose their lives due to long periods of no treatment. Additionally, more deaths come from sleep apnea throughout the night rather than during the day when you are aware of your breathing patterns.

Read on to learn more about how untreated sleep apnea can be a direct cause of death.