Sleep apnea: Causes and Complications

The most common type of apnea is obstructive sleep apnea which is caused by a blockage of the airway when throat muscles relax during sleep where as central sleep apnea occurs when your brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles tha

Updated: June 16, 2022

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when breathing of a person is interrupted during sleep. The most common type of apnea is obstructive sleep apnea which is caused by a blockage of the airway when throat muscles relax during sleep where as central sleep apnea occurs when your brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing.

Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnea:

When the muscles in the back of your throat relax your airway narrows or closes as you breathe in and you can not get an adequate breath in. This may lower the level of oxygen in your blood resulting in obstructive sleep apnea. This inability to breathe is sensed by your barain making you awake from your sleep so that your airway will be reopened.
You may make a snorting, choking or gasping sound which are usually so brief that you could not remember it and thing your sleep was not interrupted. This interruption could be more then 30 times per our and can last the whole night. These are obstruction for a deep, restful phases of sleep and you will probably feel sleepy during your waking hours. This makes a great impact in your daily activities as you may feel drowsy during day time because of lack of sleep. People with obstructive sleep apnea would not be able to know their sleep interuption and think they slept well all night.

Causes of central sleep apnea:

This type of occurs when your brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. You may awaken with shortness of breath or may not be able to fall asleep or staying asleep.

Complications of Sleep Apnea:

Sleep apnea can result in a number of health problems if left untreated. Complications of Sleep apnea may include:

Daytime fatigue:

Sleep apnea makes it impossible for a deep, restful phases of sleep due to repeated awakenings which may lead to severe daytime drowsiness, fatigue and irritability. It will make difficulty for you to concentrate in daily activities such as watching TV or even when driving as you feel drowsy. People with sleep apnea have an increased risk of motor vehicle and workplace accidents. Sleep apnea may be responsible for poor performance in everyday activities, such as at work and school. Being quick tempered, moody or depressed are usual for people especially children with sleep apnea. Children will have have behavior problems.

High blood pressure or heart problems:

There will be a increases in blood pressure due to sudden drops in blood oxygen levels that occur during sleep apnea. This also impact the cardiovascular system. The risk of high blood pressure or hypertension increases with obstructive sleep apnea. It may increase the risk of recurrent heart attack, and abnormal heartbeats, such as atrial fibrillation and even stroke. These multiple episodes of low blood oxygen can lead to sudden death from an irregular heartbeat if there is underlying heart disease.

Type 2 diabetes:

People with sleep apnea are more likely to develop insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes as compare to people without sleep disorder.

Metabolic syndrome:

A combination of other risk factors which are associated with a higher risk of heart disease such as high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, high blood sugar and an increased waist circumference are responsible for the occurrence of metabolic syndrome.

Complications with medications and surgery:

As people with sleep apnea are prone to breathing problems, especially when sedated and lying on their backs, there may be complications following major surgery. Certain medications and general anesthesia can not be given to people with sleep apnea in some cases. Therefore make sure you speak to your doctor that you have sleep apnea and how it is treated before undergoing any surgery.

Liver problems:

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is associated with sleep apnea.

Sleep-deprived partners:

Loud snoring can disrupt the sleep of your partner as a result of which he/she will move to another room, or even on another floor of the house, to get a uninterrupted sleep. When your partner is sleep-deprived because of your snoring, it will impact your relationship too.


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