What if every night while you slept, unbeknownst to you, your body experienced a sort of glitch, malfunctioning hundreds and hundreds of times and increasing your risk of everything from kidney disease to stroke, and worse?
Bad news: This isn’t the latest Stephen King novel. This is reality for millions of Americans. It could even be reality for you.
Sleep Apnea and Hypertension Go Hand in Hand
Sleep apnea is that “glitch” — a sleep disorder in which sufferers stop breathing over and over while they sleep, unknowing. Although there are visible symptoms, such as snoring, daytime sleepiness, and even difficulty losing weight, these symptoms can be varied, vague, and difficult to trace back to the source. In fact, estimates suggest that around 80% of people with sleep apnea go undiagnosed.
But just because you don’t know it’s there doesn’t mean it isn’t killing you. Sleep apnea results in increased blood pressure, also known as hypertension, in many people. Hypertension comes with a long list of dangerous health risks, many of which significantly increase your chance of an early death.
Hypertension can cause decreased bone density, increasing the risk of osteoporosis. It can result in erectile dysfunction and lowered libido. It can cause glaucoma and retinopathy, leading to loss of vision. The medications that treat it can even cause depression and anxiety in those with hypertension.
But all of these pale in comparison to the truly deadly risks that hypertension is tied to: kidney disease, stroke, and heart disease, some of the leading killers worldwide.
The kidneys protect the body by filtering waste and toxic materials from the blood. Heightened blood pressure can damage or even clog the kidneys, leading to kidney disease, an extremely common cause of death. Hypertension can also increase the risk of a blood clot or rupture in or near the brain, resulting in a stroke. While some stroke victims survive, many do not.
But by far the worst threat of hypertension is to the heart. High blood pressure puts stress on the heart, leading to increased risk of heart disease — the number one killer in the world.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
So how do you know if sleep apnea is killing you while you snooze? Here are some symptoms to look out for:
Daytime fatigue or sleepiness; the feeling of not having slept well
Trouble concentrating, remembering, and feeling motivated
Irritability, depression, or moodiness
Snoring, particularly if it ends in a choking or gurgling sound
Frequent nighttime urination
If you experience some of these symptoms, it may be a good idea to speak to your doctor about getting a sleep test done. Sleep apnea may be dangerous, but it is also completely treatable. A dentist can provide effective sleep apnea treatment using oral appliance therapy. This FDA-approved treatment is covered by most health insurance, and uses an oral appliance to hold the jaw in the correct position to keep the airway open while sleeping.