Sleep apnea can be deadly, study says–but what’s the solution?

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

A new study reiterates common medical knowledge that sleep apnea increases your risk of death. The study in the Journal Sleep monitored 1,522 people, aged 30 to 60, over an 18-year time period and found that the worse the “sleep disordered breathing,” as they call it, the higher the risk. The worst breathers had an increased risk of 3.8 times those with no problems breathing while asleep.

The authors took into consideration age, sex and weights of the participants. Increased risk of cardiovascular-related deaths was a major contributing factor for the increase in death. It did not matter if the participants complained of daytime drowsiness. The causative factor was whether the person was stopping his/her breathing for a few seconds anywhere from five to more that 30 times a minute. This led to a drop in the blood oxygen level.

If sleep apnea is potentially deadly, then how do you know if you have it, and is current treatment effective?

The most common signs and symptoms are listed under our sleep lab video. If you have a sleep partner, he/she might give you insight into your nighttime breathing habits.

Since I have sleep apnea, I am particularly interested in how to decrease the increased risk of death. This study gave only limited information in that regard. They did find that when they took anyone who had tried CPAP out of the group the risk of death went from an increased risk of 3.0 to 3.8 suggesting CPAP helped.

There has been no long term study, however, to compare the death risk of those who have sleep apnea, and have been treated with CPAP or oral devices, to those who have not. Nor has there been a study to compare a treatment group to a baseline group without sleep apnea. Until that is done, all is just educated speculation.

I, for one, will continue my CPAP. It makes me feel better. I think it will make me live longer.

Do you have the symptoms; do you know anyone who does? What are they doing for it? Let’s discuss.

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7 Responses to “Sleep apnea can be deadly, study says–but what’s the solution?”

  1. Mark Salinas Says:

    I don’t think any of my children show symptoms….I am always keeping an eye out. Thanks!

    Mark Salinass last blog post..Last Week Linkin’…

  2. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Ever vigilant for the children. But they usually grow up ok despite the worries.

  3. Kitrona Says:

    I definitely have sleep apnea; my doctor specifically said it’s “severe”, with an average of 65 apneas per hour. I’m sticking with my CPAP; I’ve definitely felt more awake and alert, and if it can help keep me alive longer, that’s just one more reason to keep using it, despite the minor inconvenience. Gotta stay alive for my kids! (who probably also have sleep apnea)

    Speaking of which, how young is too young to get tested?

  4. James Hubbard Says:

    Stick with it Kitrona:

    Talk to your primary care provider and the people who did your testing.
    I think children can be tested who are over age 1. The test can be adapted for the age.
    I will give you some quick, fast facts (not inclusive by any means).

    Risk factors- obesity, dental problems, enlarged tonsils and adenoids.
    Symptoms-snoring, fatigue, learning problems
    Treatment- Treat risk factors. Some do well with cpap.

    thanks, and let me know if I can help further.

  5. Christine Says:

    I was diagnosed with sleep apnea over a year ago. I’ve always snored, but it was getting really bad, plus I couldn’t stay awake. I’d fall asleep at work, anywhere! On the weekends I would sleep almost the entire time. I finally had a sleep test done, and they said it was a mild case, but still enough to start using the CPAP.

    Since using the CPAP I”m more awake, alert, and feel a heck of a lot better all around. Only problem is, it’s very uncomfortable to wear sometimes. I’ll take it off in my sleep. I’ve been trying to find a low cost supplier of masks to try the type of mask that just covers the end of the nose. I have one that covers most of my face, and it’s a small! LOL! I still wear it though.

    Christines last blog post..Win a Wii Fit!!!

  6. jhubbard Says:

    Christine, I am like you. I feel better, but have not found the perfect mask. The nasal pillow mask is comfortable but I can’t get a consistent seal. My pressure is 10 and it may be a little high. Also I breathe through my mouth at times. I have a mask that covers my nose only and am going to try to use it with a chin strap.
    You may be able to ask the people that did your sleep lab study to give you a free fitting consult. You go in and try the various masks. That way you can order your proper size.

  7. Rudy Ichinotsubo Says:

    Can I simply say what a comfort to find someone who truly knows what they are discussing online. You actually understand how to bring an issue to light and make it important. A lot more people need to look at this and understand this side of your story. I was surprised you’re not more popular because you surely possess the gift.

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