Sleep apnea is a chronic sleep disorder effecting more than 18 million adults in the United States alone, and for those who suffer from the condition, it affects more than just their quality of sleep. In fact, sleep apnea increases the risk for developing other life threatening illnesses such as cancer, stroke, and osteoporosis to name a few.
Sleep apnea is characterized by shallow breathing and pauses when breathing completely stops. These pauses can last for as little as a few seconds to as much as a few minutes. Oftentimes, when breathing resumes, the sufferer will make a loud snoring or choking sound, which typically rouses the person out of deep sleep and into a lighter state of sleep.
The risk factors associated with developing sleep apnea include a family history of the condition, being overweight, smoking, alcohol use, a larger neck, and advanced age. The effects of sleep apnea can leave the sufferer with a diminished quality of life because they will feel tired and run down during the day from lack of sleep and will suffer from complications caused by other health problems brought on by the condition. The most common type of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea and if left untreated, it can increase the risk of developing other more serious health problems, such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, stroke, heart arrhythmias, heart attack, cancer, and osteoporosis.
In a recent study by the University of Sydney, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, researchers studied sleep data collected from 397 adults in 1990. Of those 397, 20.6 percent suffered from mild obstructive sleep apnea while 4.6 percent had moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea.
Through the study, researchers followed those 397 patients for 20 years. During that time, 77 of the patients passed away, 31 suffered a stroke, 59 developed heart disease, and 125 developed some type of cancer causing 39 of them to pass away. This data and other factors were considered, such as whether the sufferer was a smoker, what their current body mass index was, their age, sex, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, whether they had diabetes, and occurrences of angina. After compiling all the data, researchers were able to determine that those suffering from obstructive sleep apnea were at a 3.7 times higher risk of having a stroke and a 2.5 times higher risk of developing cancer. In addition, the risk of dying from cancer increased by 3.4 times and the risk of death in general jumped by 4.2 times.
Another study conducted in Taiwan by Dr. Kai-Jen Tien at the Chi Mei Medical Center in Tainan analyzed the data collected from 1,400 patients between the years of 2000 and 2008. Those results were compared to 20,600 other people who do not have obstructive sleep apnea to determine the effect on the sufferer’s bones. The findings showed that people suffering from obstructive sleep apnea were at a 2.7 times higher risk for developing the bone disease osteoporosis.
Both studies were able to prove a definite relationship between sleep disruptions and lack of oxygen with how other body systems perform as a result of a patient suffering from obstructive sleep apnea. The results were conclusive that sleep apnea does in fact increase the risk of developing other serious health problems including cancer, stroke, and osteoporosis.
By Donna W. Martin